That was the overwhelming emotion I felt all through X-Men: Apocalypse, the approximately 5,387th film in 16 years in which a private school full of specially gifted mutants save the world from some megalomaniacally-inclined mutant bad guys while mere humans either tut-tut or look on sympathetically from the sidelines. I didn’t like it; I didn’t hate it; I didn’t care enough to either like or hate it. It just was — a visual colorful placeholder devoid of any kind of storytelling color. That makes this an exceedingly difficult review to write. How, after all, can one expound on their opinion if both the best AND worst thing I can say about it is that I saw it?
I’m not going to bother and rehash the plot because — who cares? You already know what it’s about. You gleaned as much story from a trailer as I did from watching the whole damn thing. Besides, have you seen an X-Men film before? A superhero film? Hell, any film in which a hero or two or five save the world? There. Apocalypse’s plot has been recapped.
Okay, I know, that’s just being a lazy critic, but this is a lazy movie. It hits all the motions with all the aplomb, inspiration and joie de vivre of someone painting a wall institution white. It exists to fill a quota — Fox’s every-other-year desire to revisit Charles Xavier’s School For Gifted Children. That desire is fine — these specially powered folk mint them a ton of money and we get to check in on some characters we, the audience, ostensibly care about. But, this is a pointless visit. It’s like checking in on the cousin you haven’t seen in years only a week after revisiting them: nothing’s changed. Nothing’s new. They have no new life experience to share — you’ve already compared the wedding albums and children’s photos and “what you been up to?s” and are now just listlessly downing Bud Light while grunting through an episode of Judge Judy. There’s no reason to be there, but there you are. Same with Apocalypse: there’s no reason to be here, but Fox is anyway, downing shitty American lager while mutants shoot light beams at each other and things fall from the sky.
Apocalypse isn’t terrible. Some people would have you believe so, but its not — after all, its been made with the most cutting digital FX of 1999. How can it be bad? Too many people have paychecks on the line to risk losing it all on a bad film. If Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg and Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender and whatever suit gave this the greenlight made an outright terrible movie, then audiences wouldn’t show, and how would they even make that down payment on the solid gold jacuzzi for their Hollywood Hills McMansion? Yes, this movie can be called things like dull and cliché and uninspired, but c’mon — how often do *you* go above and beyond at work? We all need to punch the clock sometimes.
I do have quibbles. One is Apocalypse. He’s a pretty dire villain. Oh, he might be some big bad in the comics but he’s just a garden variety supervillain with a God Complex and a single-minded desire to “rule the world!” But so was Brain from Pinky and The Brain. He looks like Thanos and Ivan Ooze mated. His most impressive trick is borrowed from the Djinn from those hoary Wishmaster horror movies of the ‘90s. He rides around with a posse of other superheroes who don’t really do anything and act like his bodyguards even though he is, like all-powerful and stuff. (Ryan Gosling just told me not to say “and stuff.”) One of his posse is Magneto, living off the grid in Poland with a wife and kid, who gets to be the baddie yet again, but the catch is he’s only a henchmen, so it’s all original. Inspired! Apocalypse is played by Poe Dameron — otherwise an actor known as Oscar Isaac, who is such a good actor that you are really sad he’s so, so bad here. Like, I am embarrassed for the man. Schumacher couldn’t ding it to an actor more.
Then again, embarrassing yourself with an epically lousy camp performance is probably preferable to drifting through a film with all the enthusiasm of a tax audit. A lot of people online have remarked that Jennifer Lawrence looks bored in the trailers — and boy are they right. But she isn’t the only returning stooge to plod through with little grace, joy or dignity. Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Hugh Jackman (did I spoil it for you? C’mon — its a goddamn X-Men, you know it, I know it, Wolverine is going to appear somewhere) — usually good actors all, but here they are mentally choosing their new car. The newbies don’t fare much better. Tye Sheriden, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Sophie Turner, some of our most promising young actors, all rendered terminally bland, and Olivia Munn is…pretty. I don’t mean to be shallow or sexist but…well, that’s all she gets to contribute. Only James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender come off well. These guys must have some integrity to their craft to have actually given a damn here.
There are no story arcs, just events. Everything that happens is a variation on what happened before. Do we really need to see Charles Xavier tell Erik Lensherr once again that he sees some good in the man-magnet and asking him to stay? Especially since this movie actually underlines it by showing clips of the same conversation from the other two movies? Do we need to see Mystique have an identity crisis over her powers one more time? Heck, even the best moment here, the funniest, wittiest, most engaging — another awesome Quicksilver scene, this time him saving people from an exploding house– is a replay of the best moment from the last film. It’s all. Been. Done. Before.
And that, my friends, is the problem. There was no reason to make a new X-Men film other than the fact that the last one was über-successful, and no one had anything new to say, anything new to add, but they went ahead anyway. And this is what we get, the result of people who can do something, but no reason why they should. I wish this was terrible. For all the bad I’ve described none of it is hatefully bad (your mileage may vary — I didn’t care enough to look for plot holes, mistakes and wrongheaded aberrations from the comics). It’s just flat. I’d rather see a film of shocking ineptitude than functional tedium.
X-Men: Apocalypse is going to make money. They always do. Let’s hope that everyone at least has a reason beyond cash registers ringing when the next X-film crops up a few years from now.