Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Michael Fassbender, James MacAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, and Oscar Issac
It’s been many moons since Bryan Singer dropped X-Men onto an unsuspecting world. Nobody really could have predicted the movie would be as monumental as it would be, signifying a change in the movie game. The lack of faith wasn’t undue, as the rumors of massive reshoots and studio interference and budget cuts signaled a movie that wouldn’t be allowed to flourish. Yet Singer and company thrived under pressure, rising above their underdog status. Much like the characters they were adapting. But while we are very much in an age of comic book dominance at the box office, things have changed significantly since the early days of the 21st century.
Back in those days, flying the comic book freak flag was a no no. You didn’t wanna get too weird or faithful to the comics, because the uninitiated couldn’t handle it. But nowadays, we have shit straight up ripped from the comics verbatim. Images and storylines and lines of dialogue. Costumes are even getting more and more faithful, with the likes of Doctor Strange essentially being unchanged in his move to live action. Contrast that to the super “edgy” leather outfits the X Men wear in the movies, and one gets the feeling that someone is ashamed a bit of the past. But no longer is that the case, as the Fox bigwig that put the kibosh on the supreme levels of bizarre that the X comics traded in. And when Singer left the franchise, it seemed like the franchise was done. Yet thanks to the aforementioned departure of Tom Rothman, Singer returned in a producer capacity for the first prequel, First Class. And then he made his glorious return as the director of Days of Future Past, signaling a new era for the mutants. With Singer returning, the franchise started to embrace its roots more and more, while still staying rooted in the earlier entries. Continuing his tenure, he’s bringing in an even more comic booky element. A world class supervillain of high note. Could he handle the higher demands of an industry that has shifted into more comic book friendly territory and bigger scaled stories?
Tackling the Apocalypse character in and of itself isn’t a bad idea. Hell, it seemed like maybe they had used Future Past to set it up in a way, using the time travel shenanigans to shake Apocalypse from his slumber. Sure, the character isn’t exactly a deep character on most levels. He exists to challenge the heroes. Getting Oscar Issac to portray the first mutant seemed like a step in the right direction. Yet, things didn’t pan out exactly the way we wanted them too. And for all the faults of the movie, the biggest comes down to Apocalypse. He is not very good in this movie, quite possibly the worst antagonist in the franchise not from the stairwell swan dive abortion that is X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Isaac doesn’t necessarily play him badly, but he doesn’t add anything. It’s such a non character that does nothing that it boggles the mind as to why they wouldn’t even throw him under all that makeup to play a role that amounts to a final boss in a video game. His plan is just ridiculous and simple, yet takes 2 hours to even come into focus. And it isn’t even clear by the end of it what he is gonna do. The stringing out of the bare bones plot really cripples the movie too. It doesn’t do anything to make Apocalypse interesting or even hateful. Nor does it trade in the franchise tradition of making him kinda right in his motivations. We don’t even get anything interesting in his recruitment of his 4 horsemen, just a few lines of “hey, things suck right?” and then he has a henchmen. The only one who gets any kind of time is Magneto, who is taken to Auschwitz to destroy it to signify his letting go of the past. Storm isn’t really Storm, Angel is just muscle for some reason, and Psylocke literally does nothing the entire movie until the final fight. It’s a bizarre mishandling of the entire Apocalypse segment that it right out of the gate hinders the movie.
Now, the movie isn’t the trainwreck everyone wants you to think it is. There’s still plenty of fun to be had in the movie, but it just never reaches the highs of the past two movies or Singers first two. The cast we’ve already met before is great, minus Lawrence who gives an ambivalent performance of the Harrison Ford variety. MacAvoy is still good and fun as Xavier. Fassbender is the best thing in the movie yet again, despite his material not being as juicy as the past two. But he wrings the juices out of the bastard and makes a meal out of it. Evan Peters steals the show again as Quicksilver, not resting on his laurels of killing the MCU Quicksilver. Once again he gets a slow mo scene that just kills it. And thankfully, the new actors playing young versions of Cyclops and Jean Grey are really good. They don’t get too much to do, the movie relying a bit on past connections to make us like them. But they make it work, with Sheridan doing good work to make Cyclops more interesting and likeable than he was in the first trilogy. And with the return of Jean, we very much get the hints at a new Dark Phoenix storyline. It’s much more obvious this time out than in X2, but done in a way that already seems different. Even if it was handled like shit, I’ll give it credit for the fact that Singer is using his return to sort of mulligan The Last Stand kinda ruining his original Phoenix arc.
Singer was never the strongest visual director of the early comic book days, playing more strongly in tone and theme. But in the intervening years wallowing in mediocrity, he grew some. Days of Future Past was really strong with the visuals and action. And this one is even better, showing a meteoric rise. The colors are bright and pop, while the action is bigger and more spectacular than ever. He’s been good at using the characters powers in fights, and this one is the best he’s done. The final fight, despite the lack of emotional interest, is the best action he’s done outside the Mansion Siege in X2. Although, there is a surprising level of brutality and graphic violence in the movie. Which isn’t in and of itself a bad thing if that’s what you’re going for, making a darker movie to tackle such heavy topics. But it doesn’t actually give the violence weight. It tosses off such horrendous acts as blithely as James Bond tosses off bullets at nameless henchmen. It leads to a weird dissonance to the tone. And where he’s been good at inserting themes into the movies, this one isn’t handled so well. It want’s to say something about religion, but never actually talks about it. Just mentions it in mumbling passing, and just moves on with the plot.
I don’t hate the movie, nor do I dislike it. But it’s very flawed. This is the weakest of the franchise handled by Singer, only being bested in by Origins. Yet there’s a big boldness to the movie that makes it charming. The cast is fun to watch and the action is fun and wild. It’s a weird movie that aims for bigger things but doesn’t necessarily reach them. It loses the ambiguity of the past movies by focusing on such a blatantly bad villain. The themes are muddled, but not as bad as a plot that takes too long to get going and ultimately is simpler than it wants us to think it is. The movie doesn’t poison my interest in future movies, but it does make me think that Singer should maybe step away from the directors chair and just stay around as a producer. This may have been one too many times at the bat for him, where he should have left at the perfect end point of Future Past. If you like the franchise, it can be enjoyed. But know that it has some real problems.