“X-Men: Apocalypse” is, somewhat understandably, a bad superhero movie. Director Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects”) and his production team are saddled with the task of making one of these every two years, and that has to be extraordinarily taxing. It feels like they poured their heart and soul into 2014’s excellent “Days of Future Past,” exhausted themselves and had nothing left to give in the two years they made this one. Much more interesting than the film’s plot, which is a rather standard end-of-the-world-prevention narrative, is how “Apocalypse” provides metatextual insight into the creative process of filmmaking — and by that I mean it is abundantly clear which people involved with this film gave a shit and which didn’t.
Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis”) and Jennifer Lawrence (“The Hunger Games”), two of our biggest and brightest movie stars, didn’t give a shit. Isaac grunts and scoffs and screams in a classically embarrassing “big bad” villain turn (think Eric Bana in “Star Trek” or any of the racist egyptian villains on “Yu-Gi-Oh”), and Lawrence delivers her “tragic” character’s pseudo-edgy dialogue with all the pain and regret of an actress who really wants to take another trip to the craft services table. Claiming Isaac and Lawrence “phone it in” would be an understatement. These performances are texted in. Maybe it’s because both were caked in layers of blue makeup.
Screenwriter Simon Kinberg (“Fantastic Four”) — now responsible for penning the worst superhero movie of the year two years in a row — should probably focus on other creative endeavors in the future. If he really did his best with this script — which contains some of the worst exchanges in recent memory (Professor X (James McAvoy, “Filth”): “Now you’re in my house.” Apocalypse (Isaac): “You’re going to need a bigger house.”) and a cringe-worthy scene in which Magneto (Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs”) literally throws his fist in the air and curses god — I am officially concerned about the lack of talent behind comic book movies. This is one of the worst scripts in genre history, and that’s saying something.
The film shares additional similarities with Josh Trank’s abysmal “Fantastic Four.” They’re both long and rather structureless, with scenes juxtaposed entirely without meaning. Also, both films feel like there’s a better cut of them out there that should have made it to reel. They also both have CG effects that would have looked great ten years ago. “Apocalypse” had a significantly smaller budget than “Days of Future Past” for some reason, and it shows — there is some real bad green screen in this film. The rampant city destruction in every other shot in this film calls to mind the effects in Roland Emmerich’s hit 2009 disaster film “2012.” That is not a compliment.
On the other side of the shit-giving coin are McAvoy and Fassbender, who actually seem like they care about their characters in their third go-around, and their tremendous thespian work rescues scenes that would otherwise be garbage. Their delivery feels like members of the Royal Shakespeare Company engaged in a production of my last-minute fiction assignment for my 8th grade creative writing class. Also outclassing the script is franchise newcomer Sophie Turner, (“Game of Thrones”) who portrays a complex, likeable and powerful Jean Grey. She’s more interesting here than Famke Janssen (“Taken”) was in her three-film turn as the popular character. I’m excited to see where they take Jean (and Turner) in the inevitable sequels.
Around halfway through the film, we get another pop song-scored slow-motion scene, and, like in “Days of Future Past,” it’s the best scene in the movie. However, it’s a much lower bar to clear this time. It’s cool, but not groundbreaking like the first one. It’s a few moments of high-energy fun in a film that is absolutely loaded with obnoxious self-seriousness.
It’s not like they didn’t have the talent to make this film great. Singer and many of the film’s cast and crew have proven again and again that they have the capacity to make great films. Recently, “Days of Future Past” and “Deadpool” have shown that brilliant stuff can still be done with the X-Men characters. Again, my big thesis for why “Apocalypse” sucks so hard is simply the amount of time the filmmakers were granted to complete the project. There are glimmers of inspiration in “Apocalypse,” but it mostly feels like filling contractual obligations, treading water, until the next passion project comes along. Or rather, floating lazily in a pool full of millions and millions of dollars.
Something to point out: I am not an easily offended person, but the use of Auschwitz imagery in this film felt completely exploitative and gross. For me, and I suspect many other Jews, it’s not cool to use Holocaust imagery for a scene in which some dummies in neon-colored costumes stand around a real concentration camp in service of something as trite as forming a supervillain team. I just imagined a board of directors sitting around, deciding what Holocaust location would get the biggest emotional reaction out of people. I will not be factoring this observation into the score because this is a highly personal issue, but I maintain that this was cheap and unnecessary, especially considering the relative sensitivity with which previous iterations of the Magneto origin story in film and comics have utilized Holocaust imagery.
Before she passed away in 2013, my grandmother (a Holocaust survivor) used to attend many of the new Marvel films with my uncle. I pictured her watching this terrible scene, and I grew very sad.