This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, May 2016
There are many reasons why this X-Men movie should have been better than it is. For starters, there’s the cast of genuinely fine actors (myriad Academy Awards and nominations between them) who are deserving, just by dint of turning up on set I’d have said, of a much better script. Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) returns as Magneto, James McAvoy dons 1980s pastel sweaters and shoulder pads as the now wheelchair-bound Xavier, while Jennifer Lawrence gets to retain her more fetching human shape than Mystique’s peculiar azure physique. Most importantly, Oscar Isaac makes his Marvel debut as the eponymous villain (wait, what?? That’s right – “Apocalypse” refers not to the state of the world ending, but the guy who attempts to make it happen.) Isaac has been the Next Big Thing for a couple of years now.
Secondly, Bryan Singer is still in the director’s chair of the movies he propelled to comic book superstardom back in the early 2000s. The guy gave us The Usual Suspects, for goodness sake! He handled Tom Cruise in Valkyrie! This man’s no slouch in the smart-blockbuster department.
But while it has some snazzy set-pieces – top honours going, as in X-Men: Days of Future Past, to Quicksilver’s clever, Eurythmics-accompanied scene – X-Men: Apocalypse is mainly notable for the worst dialogue you’ve heard since, well, the 1980s. In setting the film in that seminal era, presumably to capture and thrill its target audience of long-time comic fans, the movie’s writers do things very on-the-nose: visual gags are pointed out by close-up camera work; hairstyles and clothing feel self-consciously worn; and the Egyptian-set scenes feel like a nod to Indiana Jones and other teen movies of the 80s with all the mystical chanting and ritualistic shenanigans. Rather than pleasing, it’s simply dated. (Despite this, it’s apparently a decade where the CIA could get photos developed in less than 24 hours.)
As the clunky narrative battles to include too many concurrent threads, X-Men: Apocalypse often feels like two movies – the well-acted, serious one with Fassbender speaking convincing Polish, and a throwback to the 80s gate-crashed by a Sith Lord. Entertaining in parts, unfortunately it makes for a less than satisfying whole.