Woe is to be a mutant. It’s weird, the X-Men movies are often the franchise I’m the least excited about, but always walking away having enjoyed myself. But X-Men: Apocalypse was the first of the series (X-Men Origins: Wolverine never happened) where the world-weary mutants started to get on my nerves a bit with all of their whining. I get it: Life is hard for mutants. We all get it. It’s literally the only thing mutants ever seem to talk about. It is odd that other superheroes seem to get to have some fun, but never the X-Men.
To be fair, in Bryan Singer’s original X-Men, this was an interesting element, one that obviously had deeper meaning. But here we are, 16 years later, and everyone involved is still sad. It feels repetitive. I’m just starting to think these folks will never be happy.
Let’s interject here with a positive observation: Evan Peters’ Quicksilver is an absolute delight. Remember how we all kind of made fun of his look before Days of Future Past came out, then he wound up with the best scene? Yeah, its equivalent is even better in Apocalypse. And it comes at such a welcome moment in the movie, where everything just seems so dreary, all of a sudden here comes along Quicksilver, literally walking by, to interject some much needed fun into the film… all scored to a song by Eurythmics. Why can’t more X-Men be like this fella? What a hoot. And, on another note, Bryan Singer has cracked the code of how to do a scene with someone who can run at super speeds. I could watch an entire movie about Quicksilver.
This will probably come as a shock to nobody who has seen the trailer, but poor Oscar Isaac is completely wasted as Apocalypse, a powerful mutant who has been awakened after about 5,000 years of being buried alive – which is fitting because Isaac is buried under a ton of makeup. To be fair, he seems to be having a blast, way down there under all of that makeup. So maybe it shouldn’t be “poor Oscar Isaac” and more like, “poor us, who don’t really ever get to see Oscar Isaac, yet he’s in this movie a lot.”
These new X-Men movies have a history of casting actors who then become famous, but are buried under blue skin. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is now the main character, as well she should be. But now we barely see Lawrence actually looking like Mystique anymore. (She doesn’t have her blue skin much in this movie.) And I get why: X-Men: Apocalypse has been written to serve its star that they kind of lucked into signing before she became a very famous person. I’m okay with all of this, but I wish they had kept Isaac out of the makeup, as well. I get that Apocalypse in the movie resembles his comic book counterpart, but who cares? (He kind of looks silly on screen, to be honest.)
The film is set in 1983, and Erik Lehnsherr’s (a.k.a. Magneto; a.k.a. Michael Fassbender) has gone legit since the events of Days of Future Past ten years before. He’s basically living the life of a Bruce Springsteen song: Working down at the factory all day, then comes home to see his wife and daughter (who, because of licensing issues, is not Scarlet Witch) after a hard day. He seems happy enough. It’s nice! But after an accident at the factory, during which Erik uses his powers to save a co-worker, he’s outed, then tragedy happens when the local authorities confront him. By the time Apocalypse shows up on a recruitment mission (he literally just appears places, he does this the whole movie), going on a worldwide destruction tour sounds pretty good. If you’ve seen any other X-Men movies, you know that Xavier (James McAvoy) knows there’s still good in Erik.
(These really could be comedies. In every movie, something makes Erik mad, he overreacts, then admits, “You know, I always do that. I need to think this through a little bit more in the future probably. Anyway, no harm, no foul? Cool. See you in the next one.”)
Trying to make sense of an X-Men movie timeline is an effort in futility. Maybe it’s just part of their charm now that nothing makes sense. Even if we just look at the last three films, the events of X-Men: First Class (still my favorite X-Men film) takes place 20 years before the events of Apocalypse, yet everyone looks about the same. I was trying to figure out what their ages had to be, and none of it made much sense. At this point, Erik would have to be in his mid-50s. Nicholas Hoult’s Hank McCoy would be around 40? Alex Summers would be at least 38 or so? But he has a younger brother, Scott, who is in high school? I mean, sure, it’s possible. Anyway, don’t try to figure any of this out, it will give you a headache.
With everything going on in Captain America: Civil War, I really liked that the world wasn’t at stake. It was refreshing. That’s what I also liked a lot about The Wolverine. We weren’t left staring at demolished CGI cities once again. But with X-Men: Apocalypse, we are back to the world being at stake. (I mean, it is in the title.) By the time it’s over, we are left looking at heaps of CGI destruction. I bet a hundred million people died. But, hey, the good news is Erik Lehnsherr learned a valuable life lesson. And that’s all that really matters in this movie… and in every X-Men movie, really. Magneto is the human equivalent of a “One to Grow On” PSA.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.