Well…that was a trainwreck. Honestly, 2016 seems to be a year for disappointing superhero films. There was Deadpool, which while being a lot of fun, had little to no plot. Then there was the atrocity of Batman v Superman, and the massive disappointment of Captain America: Civil War. X-Men Apocalypse falls third out of fourth in the rankings, with only Batman v Superman being less impressive. There are so many missed opportunities in this film, with a villain who was just an overused plot device. Gone are the complicated and interesting plots of First Class with the potential for character development. Instead we see a plot with a generic bad guy who wanted to destroy things for no reason, and marginalise good characters. This could have been an interesting story, based on the idea of mutants being superior or the world’s problems being solved by having a God-like figure. Instead we see someone with powers that are not well-defined killing billions of people and the entire thing being glossed over.
Probably one of the worst bits of this movie is how it brings Magneto in just to marginalise him. One of the key elements of the X-Men films is the friendship between Charles and Erik, yet here they are barely in any scenes together. We have a good first scene with him, but the moment he meets Apocalypse he is delegated to a generic bad guy. One would have thought that they would have learned from X-Men 3: making Magneto play second fiddle to anybody hurts his character. He is at his best when he is working with the X-Men against a common foe, because you see then that he is not a monster, he has his own ideas on how to do things and may not believe in peace but he can be a force for good and him and Charles bring out the best in each other. However, in this film he just randomly decides to help Apocalypse commit genocide (apparently not caring if humans or mutants get caught up) and probably kills billions of people with no reflection on what he did, no attempt to rationalise or even understand it. He just nearly kills everyone and then it is all-cool? That is not how Magneto works, he would never join Apocalypse like that, and any other powerful mutant could have played his role.
I also often would forget that this film is set in the 1980s. Unlike First Class and Days of Future Past, where key events happened and it was obvious that this was set in the past, here this could have been in the modern day. The setting would have been perfect for this film, with the superpowers at each other’s throats, paranoia rising, with bellicose leaders in America and the USSR at the time. However, this is all ignored. One of the moments where this is laid bare the most is the bit where Apocalypse gains control of every nation’s nuclear arsenal, and rather than use that to destroy the world (you know, what he wanted to do), instead he decides to go through with a stupid plan to kidnap Charles for no reason whatsoever. He could do both, he has control of the entire arsenal, he could just nuke everywhere apart from where he was and where Charles was and deal with them later. In fact Apocalypse’s ideology is an extreme form of individualism. In the comics he is a being that values strength and believes that conflict helps people evolve and better themselves (like the Shadows in Babylon 5). He has started wars throughout history in order to make the world a stronger place. The idea that people cannot be coddled, have to look out for themselves and that it is irresponsible for them not to take responsibility was an idea that was gaining traction in the 1980s. Apocalypse could be a massive libertarian. Instead, he is just another tyrant who wants to take over the world and destroy it, and we have no idea what he would build in its place. The entire film is a massive wasted opportunity.
The film does have some redeeming features. One of them is Quicksilver, who utterly stole the show. This character is truly wonderful to see. The scenes where you see him moving and everything else in slow-motion was a call-back to one of the best scenes in Days of Future Past. He is amusing, with great wisecracks and able to lighten the mood in the movie. Furthermore, he has very good motivations, with him realising that Magneto is his father, and him wanting to confront him with that fact. Quicksilver has never had a father-figure and Magneto could well be that for him. The fact that he chooses not to was actually also a great moment, it shows that he recognises he does not need Magneto to be his father, as he has the X-Men, a true family for him.
I also like the new characters. Scott Summers, Jean Gray, and Nightcrawler were all really nice characters to see. Given the transformative effect of the First Class of X-Men, having prevented the Cuban Missile Crisis, having brought acceptance and peace to the mutant community, these people see Beast and Mystique as heroes. These kids want to be those heroes, having romanticised ideas. The realisation that their skills could be used to fight and defend those they loved was great. They are real human characters, with real problems and it bodes well that they will be in future films. I suspect the film tries too hard to develop them and leaves the fight with Apocalypse as a side-story just to set them up. If that is the case, then I look forward to the next movie, which might actually have a coherent plot.
Finally, I have to give a shout out to Michael Fassbender, who once again gave a fantastic performance as Magneto. While in the later film he was completely marginalised, seeing him in Poland, with a wife and family was really great. Here was this fighter, this veteran, settling down and trying to live in peace, being well known and having friends in that community. However, when he uses his powers, even to save someone’s life he ends up losing that entire life, with his daughter and his wife killed. His reactions as well are amazing, where he kills those who committed that murder and intends to kill the entire factory where he worked. Fassbender portrays the hurt and anguish Magneto was feeling there beautifully. Then, almost as a metaphor for the film, Apocalypse arrived, pushed Magneto to the side, and buried the workers (and the film) in the ground.