This Is the Dawning of the Age of Apocalypse
I'm not really certain Fox could really win with this movie. There are a few X-MenLaunched in 1963 and written by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men featured heroes distinctly different from those featured in the pages of DC Comics. Mutants who didn't ask for their powers (and very often didn't want them), these heroes, who constantly fought against humans who didn't want "muties" around, served as metaphors for oppression and racism. Their powerful stories would form this group into one of the most recognizable superhero teams in comics (and a successful series of movies as well). storylines that are so famous they've transcended geek knowledge and have entered the mainstream pop culture. Just about everyone knows something about "Dark Phoenix," "Days of Future Past," and "Age of Apocalypse." If Fox wanted to go down the list with the First Class cast and hit every major storylines people loved, the Apocalypse was clearly on the table (especially since, between old and new casts, we'd already gotten the Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand and then Days of Future Past).
The director of First Class, Matthew Vaughn, had a plan to do just that, a four-part series that would have started with First Class before trucking forward into second movie we never got to see, diving into Days of Future Past, before finishing with Apocalypse. While ambitious (and thankfully free of more Phoenix, which the films had already botched once at this point), the studio really wanted to get into the big storylines quicker. They wanted them now despite the fact that we still barely knew the new cast. This forced a lot of character development and back-story toss-ins into Days of Future Past, and then it meant that, for whatever reason, the next film was X-Men: Apocalypse, which compromised the movie in so many ways.
Make no mistake, Apocalypse is a big character in the X-Men mythos, a mega villain of the same caliber as Thanos or Darkseid. While his most famous storyline is certainly Age of Apocalypse, an alternate timeline tale of Apocalypse conquering the world and ruling with an iron fist, he had plenty of other adventures before that. Knowing Fox, they wanted to use Apocalypse simply for the name recognition of the character but it's clear they didn't really care about the character beyond that because the film takes a smart, interesting, immortal character, and depicts him as a vainglorious idiot vamping in the background but, largely, not doing anything. It wastes a perfectly great villain on a mediocre story and then moves on. Who cares about Apocalypse, right? We made out ticket money.
In the film we witness Apocalypse (Oscar Issac) in ancient Egypt, a power mutant who, through some weird and barely explained ceremony, can absorb the powers of other mutants, transferring his consciousness (and all previously stolen powers) into a new host, gaining their powers as well. The ceremony we witness, though, is ruined by rebels in the ranks of the palace guards who attempt to kill the first mutant by dropping a giant brick on him. His four guardians (the original Four Horsemen, a fact the movie feels the need to explicitly explain to us) protect their lord, giving their lives to ensure he survives. For whatever reason Apocalypse is locked into perpetual hibernation, buried deep under ground while the rest of the world moves on.
Centuries later, in the 1980s (so we're now twenty-some odd years ahead of First Class), a group of followers of Apocalypse (since apparently, thousands of years later the dude is still worshiped like a god) manage to resurrect the first mutant, pulling him from his eternal slumber. Awake and feeling mighty refreshed, Apocalypse travels about the world, gathering four new horsemen -- Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Archangel (Ben Hardy), and Magneto (returning actor Michael Fassbender) -- to protect him and help him remake the whole world as it was back in the days of ancient Egypt. Additionally, they also kidnap Professor X (James McAvoy) so that Apocalypse can steal his powers and rule everyone from their own minds. So the rest of the X-Men, including new versions of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), to band together, save the professor, and stop the evil mutant.
Okay, so from the start this movie does so much wrong. For starters, it spends a lot of time adding in all kinds of new characters (and reintroducing old ones as well), spiting its attention between so many different storylines that it barely has time to focus on any one of them long enough to give us satisfying storytelling. Of course, this is the same problem I had with Days of Future Past, which, like this movie (and many of the other films in the series), was writing by Simon Kinberg, so clearly the writer has a certain (tedious) style. Those few times where the movie actually settles down to tell a proper, focuses story the movie sings, but those movies are few and far between.
The two best moments in the movie happen midway in and don't in any way, shape, or form involved Apocalypse (which should tell you something about how bland the lead villain is. The first is another great slow-mo sequence with Quicksilver, this time with him saving a bunch of people from within an exploding building as it very slowly explodes around him (set to Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams"). This sequence is incredible; well constructed, funny, and paced quickly enough that just as you might start to get tired of the antics it ends. That said, Quicksilver is so powerful in this one sequence you basically have to wonder why we need any other X-Men. Give us a Quicksilver movie, just a fun collection of his antics set to good music with a few story beats between, and ditch everyone else.
The other big sequence happens after the Quicksilver set-piece where a bunch of the X-Men are taken to Alkali Lake and, in the process, end up meeting Wolverine. This is another one of those instances where a character is introduced, used for one sequence, and then ditched (like Quicksilver in the previous film), and while its great its hard to say its necessary for the plot of the movie. Wolverine shows up, wrecks face, and leaves, but Wolverine has no bearing on the rest of the movie. While the call back to previous adventures with him is nice, wouldn't it have been better to use the Alkali segment to get the team working together before they had to go fight Apocalypse? Instead, we go into the last fight still not knowing half the cast and barely caring about anything that's going on.
That said, the big issue with the movie is truly Apocalypse. Oscar Issac is a great actor but he's hobbled by an underwritten role and awful makeup. He's basically given the job is selling a character who barely has any story development -- all his development happened before wee even see him in ancient Egypt, thousands of years before this movie takes place. We never develop any kind of attachment to the character, never see him do anything fun or interesting or that puts Issac's charisma to good use, and then suddenly we're already into his big villain plan that the X-Men have to stop. That's all we get and we're supposed to somehow care after that.
Considering his villain plan, it's really hard to give a crap about Apocalypse at all. His plan, basically, doesn't make any sense: he's mad at humans for being humans and feels like they should worship him even though the dude has been asleep for thousands of years. So his goal is to wipe away all of human progress for the last however many thousands of years and start over back as if it was still ancient Egypt. While I certainly understand he's set in his ways and likes to have things just so, maybe he could have spent some time learning to appreciate all the things the modern world (of the mid 1980s) had to off. He could have gone out for fast food, watched Return of the Jedi or Back to the Future, and then decided that what he really needed to do wasn't wipe everything away, just take it over and rule it himself.
I like the idea of a version of this movie where Apocalypse learns the enjoy the modern world, where we get to see him laugh along at the TV and bond with his horsemen before deciding to move to New York and build his Pyramid over top of where the UN Headquarters is, placing himself as supreme ruler of the world. We watch him tap into a TV and learn all of human knowledge from TV signals, so maybe he could touch a computer and gift humanity with the Internet. "Worship me and get all of human communication at the touch of (my) finger," and many of the nations fall into line. It's only the X-Men that oppose him because they see the carnage he leaves in his wake, and they have to battle him despite the wishes of many of the world leaders. That's certainly a more interesting, more nuanced story than what we got, and it makes better use of the powers Apocalypse shows in this movie.
What annoys me most, though, is the fact that this is the Apocalypse movie they decided to give us. The film (spoilers) kills off Apocalypse, eliminating the X-Men's biggest villain like he's a boss of the week. After this, no more Apocalypse (which is rather prescient, really, since the next film, Dark Phoenix, destroyed the franchise so bad Disney has to reboot it and can't salvage anything). Instead of using him again and again, he's wiped away like so much sand (another element he has power over). And, because we already got the alternate timeline Days of Future Past we also wouldn't get Age of Apocalypse, the one Apocalypse story everyone actually cared about.
The greatest sin of the film, though, is that it's just boring. It's tired and slowly paced and is really just going through the motions already. No wonder the next film did so poorly; no one care about the making of this one, and while Apocalypse did reasonably well in theaters, fans weren't exactly overjoyed about it. Is it any wonder no one wanted to go see yet another dip into this well?
Continuity and Issues:
This bothers me every time I watch this film: the interior of the pyramid at the start of the movie is impossibly tall. Like, there is no way the entire sequence of all the people fall down, down, down, deep into the temple basement could every possibly be realistic. And then, when the one lady falls down and breaks her back, she should be a liquid puddle and, in no way, should she be able to move after it. I hate it so much.
So, yes, the film basically ditches just about all the details of Apocalypse from the comics to make a similar looking character that really has nothing to do with the original guy. Both comics and movie Apocalypse are the first mutant, a rules in Egypt who can amplify other mutant abilities. And that's the only connection between the two. In the same way that The Last Stand (and later Dark Phoenix) remade the Phoenix to be something "palatable" for movie audiences (read: barely recognizable and totally dumbed down), Apocalypse completely ruins its lead villain, changing everything about him for... reasons?
Angel shows up here and he's a distinctly different character from his appearance in X-Men: The Last Stand. There he was a twenty-something American dude while here he's a twenty-something British dude who lived 20 years before hand. Sure, they could be different characters but the movie never distinguishes that. Plus, it's a tad weird if they are the same character since that would the timeline reboot somehow caused a person to be born twenty years early. That seems unlikely. Of course, we also have a version of Psylocke in this film after Psylocke, apparently, was also in The Last Stand (although you'd be hard pressed to know it, as it's something we even missed). The same logic applies for her, too, as she's not slightly older while also appearing 20 years earlier. Weird.
Of course we once again have to point out the fact that Alex Summers is, somehow, brothers with Scott Summers despite a pretty clear 20-plus year gap between to two. While not impossible it certainly is implausible. But then just about everyone here is aging at a much slower rate than they should, still playing roles for characters that have jumped twenty years in a small span of time. Alex being 20 years older is the least strange thing about this group at this point.
Let's sing a song for Jubilation Lee who, sadly, gets a couple of quick scenes in the middle of the movie (as the fourth teen in the group with Scott, Kurt, and Jean) and then is dropped and never seen again. Poor Jubilee.
So Scott and Jean free Wolverine at the Alkali Lake facility. This isn't such a big deal since we're in a new continuity. But it does mean that everything we saw in the first movie is well and truly out the door now. Everyone knows Alkali Lake exists, everyone knows Wolverine in there, and everyone should know bad things were done to him. All that mystery of the first movie is gone from the new continuity. See ya!
Also, now knowing that Wolverine met Jean when she was but a teen makes the love story between them in the first couple of movies a bit icky now. He's, like, 100 years older than her, easy -- that's not May-December but, like, January 1980-December 2099. Ew, Logan.