RECAP: X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016): Bryan Singer

The ageless first class of X-Men actors advance to the 1980s in X-Men: Apocalypse. Mutants have many powers, but did you know they can age not a day in 20 years?

Consider that Sophie Turner, who plays Jean Grey, is 20. The events of First Class took place 20 years before Apocalypse shows up. So she was a wee baby when Xavier lost his walking ability and Magneto first donned his helmet.

These folks haven’t aged in the 20 years of this series. I can suspend the disbelief, because I like what the producers have striven for in setting the mutants in older times. Still, the idea seems to wane in public consciousness. This third film of the prequel series’ theatrical earnings will fall much behind Days of Future Past when it closes its theatrical run.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: The first, and most powerful, mutant tries to destroy the world right after he forms an awesome band of backup mutants. 

Hero (4/10)

Trying to unearth a hero from Apocalypse is about as hard as churning oil deposits from beneath the Gulf of Mexico seafloor. It’s a mess. X-Men: Apocalypse wants to make the story of Jean Grey its centerpiece tale of new mutant cast. Problem is, there are too many old ones, new ones, and new old ones.

Yeah, I said it was a mess. Sophie Turner lays down her ball gowns and winter furs of Game of Thrones to play the most powerful telepath Xavier has ever known, and thus the world has ever seen. She has nightmares that can melt walls. And…that’s it. We learn nothing else about Grey’s history. It’s not she but her future husband, Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), that gets an origin scene.

Big mistake, because, if you’ve seen the film, Jean Grey is the hero. The movie’s like a bait and switch–setting up Cyclops and delivering with Jean Grey. Color me confused.

For old times’ sake I’ll discuss Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). Now dressed like a member of The Human League, Xavier has it bad for the ladies. But not just any lady–CIA agent Moira MacTaggart (Rose Byrne). Remember her? From the second movie? Me neither, ’cause she weren’t in it. She helped round up the team in First Class, and now he’s decided to reconnect to her One True 20 years later.

Yeesh. Setting that aside, Xavier finally loses his hair. Apocalypse wants to transfer to him to get total mind control and enslave all humanity. Xavier sends notice to all humans that Apocalypse is well on his way to doing so.

McAvoy gamely assumes the role of team leader and moral compass. Playing a telepath skirts camp territory by its nature. Xavier’s powers are on display when he puts a finger to his temple and scrunches his face. McAvoy always sells the move. You want to laugh, but you can’t quite.

Xavier doubles down in Apocalypse on his belief in the better parts of humankind. He works on Magneto and nurtures Jean Grey. In the end, he explains to Apocalypse why the man-god will lose. “Because you’re alone, and I’m not.”

X-Men: Apocalypse’s lack of focus really hurts the movie, but it’s only one of many missed opportunities. For example…

Villain (2/10)

Pity Oscar Isaac, who likely had 10,000 hours in makeup to wear the strange facial prostheses of Apocalypse, a mutant eager to cleanse the world because he’s overslept by about 5,000 years.

We first see Apocalypse as he nears death in the Nile Valley in 3600 BC. That’s an interesting year because it predates Egypt’s first stone pyramid by one thousand years.

And no wonder (get it, wonder?), because the aging Apocalyspe, or, as he’s known, En Sabah Nur, is ready to transfer his consciousness to a younger body with self healing powers. During this transfusion, an elaborate plot unfolds to kill the god. As Xavier says in a voiceover, “A gift can be a curse.”

Some dissenting Egyptians unleash two monoliths that slide down a long tunnel and crash into stone pillars. These were lode-bearing pillars, the lode being the entire weight of the Cheops-sized stone pyramid. The building collapses and, after considerable assistance from Apocalypse’s four cronies, entombs the god instead of crushing him.

Perhaps this guy’s fate sparked the Egyptian idea to use their pyramids as tombs, and to build them on the ground instead of atop two pillars.

Muuuuuch later Apocalypse awakens to find the world more digital and worshipful of “false gods” and “weak systems.” Apocalypse is a god in the old style: all power and no love. He dislikes everything he sees.

We are treated to a brief, contained, and terrifying display of his power. Apocalypse uses the matter from a wall to slit the throats of some Cairo street vendors. He also melds a guy into a wall. And his eyes can turn white. All this before he comes across Storm, who will be his first acolyte.

But he needs three more mutants. Apocalypse can teleport anywhere and with no detrimental effects. He spends an excessive amount of time gathering his four acolytes when he doesn’t need them one bit.

We are led to believe that, except for Professor Xavier’s mind control, Apocalypse can literally do anything. Yet he doesn’t. This is the primary failing of X-Men: Apocalypse. Hamstringing a bad guy, especially a literal god, is unforgivable.

Is Isaac in the movie? Anyone could have played Apocalypse for all his sour posturing and displays of joyless power, nothing about the character resembles Isaac. Either that’s a sign of good acting or terrible characterization. I’m betting on the latter.

Action/Effects (5/10)

The surprise best scene of Apocalypse proves to be another scene of Quicksilver (Evan Peters) running around nonchalantly saving folks in mortal danger.

Quicksilver arrives at Xavier’s school in the nick of time. Apocalypse has just departed from kidnapping Xavier and blowing up the entire house. Quicksilver notices and springs into action, goggling up first, because, kiddos, eye safety is no laughing matter.

We saw Quicksilver try this move in Days of Future Past to great success. Running through the mutant school, Quicksilver again enjoys outrunning combustive reactions.

He first moves the primary combatants from the blast. Grey, MacTaggart, and McCoy (Nicolas Hoult) are saved. Quicksilver gleefully sprints through the mansion saving all the children, even the goldfish.

He strings up curtains on trees outside to cushion people he’s thrown. Two kids he tosses in the air, seemingly to nowhere, eventually the pond.

The effects team astounded with Quicksilver’s kitchen scene in the previous film. They upped the stakes for this mansion rescue. A huge fireball advances through the house. Mostly it’s in very very very slow motion, but every few seconds the fireball advances in snippets at normal speed.

Chalkboards burst, floor break upward, glass shatters shard by shard. Terrific work.

Few movie franchises cut out work for effects studios like X-Men. The folks at Ironhead Studio again nail mutant after mutant. Mystique’s shapeshifting powers and Quicksilver’s running skills, Magneto’s shrapnel field and Apocalypse’s apocalypting, digital effects are the movie’s finest points.

Sidekicks (4/8)

Much of the gang is back for another time around the wheel of mutants fighting mutants.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Mystique, in less blue than ever, and less mysterious than ever. Following her role in talking down Magneto from murdering Nixon, the world views Mystique as a hero. Storm has a poster of her on her wall in Cairo.

Raven, Mystique’s human name, doesn’t believe herself a hero. She’s keeping a low profile and rounding up new mutants. Nightcrawler is the first she finds. She’s remained at large since 1973’s White House events. But when Magneto resurfaces, she sees fit to tell Xavier about it.

When the professor welcomes her home, Raven says that it was never her home, just somewhere she lived. We know she will join with Magneto in coming years, and the seeds of separation continue to grow between Xavier and Raven.

Mystique is a brave fighter. She is the only mutant to physically harm Apocalypse, donning Psylocke’s form and slicing a sword across the first mutant’s neck. The strike does nothing to him, but the effort was game. She’s also instrumental in talking down Magneto–again–from killing everyone.

Like most of the other characters, every moment is grim for Mystique. Raven still isn’t interested in Hoult as Beast/Hank McCoy. Beast is another mutant spending less time in his blue form. Hard to blame the effects and makeup teams for angling for these mutants to stay in human disguise.

Beast has a thing for Mystique, but she’s working on another plane than the science geek. Classic. Smart guy pines for girl, is thwarted. Beast cooks up the idea of the X Jet and throws a few cars at enemy combatants, but he doesn’t have much else to do.

The less said about Cyclops the better. He’s overused and overrated, a jock type living amongst squirrelly nerds unable to use their powers without killing everyone. He’s around long enough to get a backstory, watch his brother die, receive special glasses to control his laser vision, and meet future wife Jean Grey. Too much time, methinks.

Henchmen (6/8)

Apocalypse gathers his four horsemen before setting out to achieve greatness. Two new characters and two old ones.

Olivia Munn and Ben Hardy portray Psylocke and Archangel, respectively. Archangel begins in an underground fighting circuit in Berlin, where he kills one mutant before escaping during a fight with Nightcrawler.

Psylocke receives even less introduction. She’s working as a bodyguard to third-person-speaking Caliban. She sports a sword and a purple laser. In the climactic battle she plays with it, even turning it into a Wonder Woman-like whip.

The enemies we know are Michael Fassbender as Magneto on the run and Alexandra Shipp as young Storm. The latter meets Apocalypse in Cairo during his hungover phase. He imbues her with the powers familiar to Storm.

Fassbender steals the show as Erik Lehnsherr. Hiding in Poland 10 years after nearly killing Richard Nixon on live TV, Lehnsherr has a wife and daughter. The daughter asks about her grandparents, the ones killed in Auschwitz at the beginning of X-Men: First Class. 

Dad tells daughter that his parents were taken from him when he was young. He promises his daughter that no one will take him away from her. Almost immediately some cops try to take him away from her. The stunt ends in her death. Fassbender’s emotional weight carries the scene. He’s a damn fine actor and this scene proves it.

All the henchpeople get their moments in the climactic battle. Psylocke, Storm, and Archangel barely speak as they show off their skills in one-on-one battles with the X-Men.

Magneto is unmoved, for a while, by Mystique’s plea to help save the family he’s got left, which includes her and Xavier. In the end he turns back to good, or maybe just less evil, and helps kill Apocalypse.

I don’t read comics, so what I’m about to say could be considered wreckless, feckless, or criminal. Leave out the Four Horsemen. They barely did anything and detracted from Apocalypse’s awesome power.

Stunts (1/6)

The best fight scene occurred when Weapon X, known to most of us as Wolverine, was freed in the Major Stryker’s compound.

Wolverine, wearing some kind of beta-blocking device around his head, runs free through the dandy corridors. Infused with adamantium, he stabs soldier after soldier, slashing blood on walls and CCTV cameras.

though mostly effects driven, Quicksilver’s scene must have been full of great stunt work. I just wish I knew what it was.

Climax (2/6)

Apocalypse, betrayed in Egypt millennia ago, chooses that spot to begin his ascension to omnipotent god-hood. From a rocky outcropping, Apocalypse sucks the matter from thousands of Cairo’s buildings to create a new pyramid that resembles an enormous pipe organ. The capstone is cut in the same pattern as the stone one from the opening sequence, the one that lights up to activate his transference scheme.

Xavier, who earlier sent a direct mind tweet to Jean Grey during his global mindcast, waits in the pyramid, because he can’t walk. The X-Men suit up and fly in a stolen jet to Cairo.

The infiltration is easy enough. They have Nightcrawler to zip them wherever they need go and Quicksilver to zip in a manner similar in kind but not scale. He and Mystique confront Magneto, while Nightcrawler goes for Xavier and the others distract Storm and Psylocke.

Magneto floats above a ruined building. He’s surrounded himself with a magnetic field that’s visible because thousands of scrap metal pieces float on its boundary. Quicksilver nudges its edge in one of the film’s coolest effects.

Around the world cities are crumbling again. Magneto, his power now felt worldwide, stirs up trouble rending nut from bolt and girder from pillar. As a random government guy says to a room full of shoulder stars, Magneto’s destroying “anything built since the Bronze Age.”

That’s bad news, but Apocalypse is tonight’s lead story over in his pyramid. Nightcrawler is first to infiltrate the facility. Why did Apocalypse build his temple with cavernous rooms? Archangel is there to fight Nightcrawler again. This time it’s personal and to the death. The blue German dodges Archangel’s metal feathers.

Outside, Storm forces Jean Grey to depart from Beast. Psylocke battles Beast, using her laser skills as sword and whip. Beast throws a car at her, but she splits it with her purple sword. Later she uses a purple whip to choke Beast. I guess the laser power has variable strength.

Mystique and Quicksilver plea with Magneto to not kill all of humanity. He still has family. Quicksilver chooses this moment to not tell Magneto he’s his father. Good timing, Pete. They sprint back to the fight.

Nightcrawler traps Archangel in web of rebar long enough to find Xavier and zap him back to the stolen jet. Too late for his hair though. It’s pretty sad what Xavier’s endured in these movies, but he gets to age into Patrick Stewart, so…not bad.

We think everything is hunky dory. Archangel breaks free. Psylocke sprints off a building, Archangel catches her and flings her onto the jet. She cuts through the roof. Mystique begs Nightcrawler to zap all of them from the crumbling jet, but he’s never done that many before. You can do it, buddy!

He does, after a few flickers. Psylocke bails out and jabs her sword into a building wall to slow her descent. Everyone’s out in the open now. Apocalypse confronts his menacers, the X-Men. Xavier wakes up and realizes that he has a way into Apocalypse’s mind. “Thanks for letting me in,” he thinks to Apocalypse.

Suddenly we’re back at the mutant school. Apocalypse is there and taking a beating from a walking Xavier. But not for long. The ancient mutant grows by an order of magnitude to bash Xavier around. In the real world he removes the wall that shielded the mutants sitting out the fight.

Beast, Cyclops and, surprise, Magneto are using their powers to attack Apocalypse. The latter’s got a forcefield around him. Remember, he can do anything. Except what Xavier can do. All those mind games were a way to get Jean Grey in there. She walks from inside Cerebro to watch the fight.

Xavier tells her to unleash her full potential. In the real world, Jean Grey walks toward Apocalypse on the air. Floating, she does her mind thing and sprouts orange fire wings. Only for a moment. The effect is total. Apocalypse cannot stop it nor maintain his forcefield.

Apocalypse’s armor melts away, then his protheses, finally his skin. The last thing to go is his smile. That’s right, he’s happy, because he’s seen Jean Grey. He says, “All is revealed,” and atomically deconstructs (I guess. After a handful of movies, I am still not clear on Jean Grey’s power. Is she a god, like Apocalypse, who can do anything?)

In the film’s most emotional moment, Xavier returns to MacTaggart her memories of mutants. Just kidding.

Again, Apocalypse is really a film of missed opportunities. How can Fox carry on this series into the ’90s? The original cast first appeared 2000. Are we supposed to pretend these actors have not aged in 30 years, and then age 30 years in three? That’s a stretch.

Apocalypse represented a chance to wipe clean the slate, to cleanse, as Apocalypse would cryptically say and then change to a better English word. Apocalypse possessed nearly endless powers. He should have killed someone.  I mean a mutant. He killed A LOT of non mutants.

Havoc was the only mutant to die. All the other characters appear in the original trilogy, so they have to survive. Here’s where a few new players could have come in handy. Even the new baddies survived. Psylocke is AWOL.

The climax underscored all the problems with Apocalypse. The most powerful villain in comic book film history barely shows off his talents.

Jokes (1/4)

A few choice jokes make the final cut. Chief among them a visit to see Return of the Jedi. Jean Grey voices the consensus that the third one is usually the worst. That doesn’t forgive Apocalypse, Bryan Singer, but we can generally agree.

Quicksilver’s scene brought a smile to my face. The creativity of the character and effects team are why we go to movies. But the scene that actually made me laugh came when Apocalypse kill-blocked Magneto. “Who the fuck are you?” Magneto asks after the god has teleported into his factory.

I liked the moment when Apocalypse speaks with Storm and says, in his ancient language, that the world needs to be “cleansed.” Storm’s like, “huh?” Apocalypse is like, “Uh, I said ‘Saved.’ Yeah, ‘saved.'”

Setting (1/4)

Same old same old in Apocalypse. The Xavier School for Gifted Children is back and as beautiful as ever. It gets destroyed. Cerebro is as gleaming steel as ever. It’s destroyed. The secret alpine dam used in X2 is grimy, green, and mildewed. It’s not destroyed, but it will be.

Credit to the filmmakers for portraying Cairo and the Pyramids as they are. The city abuts the pyramid grounds about as it appears in the film. Sadly, the city is ruinous when the mutants square off climatically outside Apocalypse’s brand new pyramid.

Commentary (0/2)

They say there are no new stories, and the X-Men franchise tries its darnedest to prove true that aphorism.

Mutants again try to cleanse the Earth of humans not up to their level. We saw that plot in 2014, 2011, 2000, and 2006. Someone’s attempting an extinction-level event in these films.

Apocalypse is just a stronger Magneto. He’s not driven by loss, but believes humans weak and undeserving of life. They worship false gods and systems of the weak.

Of course, Apocalypse takes that a step further when starts turning on his Horsemen for their weaknesses. Then Magneto realizes that he’s got to get got.

The movie tries to say that absolute power corrupts absolutely. We already knew that, X-Men movies.

Offensiveness (-2/-2)

Apocalypse is a great example of what becomes female characters when production meetings are sausage fests. Psylocke barely speaks, Storm is speechless when watching Apocalypse choke her hero, Mystique, and Jubilee, well, she’s in there, I swear.

Magneto is given a second backstory, or follow-up story. I don’t know what you call it, but the strategy begs a new term for giving a character another motivation to kill everyone.

Jean Grey is a focal point, but it’s lame Scott (the lamest name) who gets a backstory. Jean Grey, by Xavier’s admission, is perhaps the most powerful mutant born since the invention of farming. But we see Scott get his powers. In a high school toilet. Cyclops is an avowed asshole and can only do laser eyes. He sucks.

The ladies are needlessly dressed in cleavage-splitting spandex. I’m not one to outright complain about ladies in sexy clothes; I’m a red-blooded American goddamn it, but, I mean, come on, movie. Jennifer Lawrence’s first appearance in this movie is a shot of her legs tracing to her midriff and cleavage.

For every second of Jean Grey there’s a minute of Xavier. For every shot of Jubilee there’s a movie with Magneto. Pity the young girl going to a blockbuster these days. Sure, she has more choices and more role models than ever before, but increased choice highlights a further lack of it.

Sure, Hunger Games exists. And Hermione’s cool. However, she’s in Harry Potter; Harry Potter’s not in Hermione Granger.

Boys love to destroy stuff, and boys tend to grow into men who may or may not destroy stuff, but Hollywood, ladies like that shit, too.


  • Why are so many mutants blue? Beast, Nightcrawler (who jokes about it), Mystique: is blue an easy color for comics and thus a popular one amongst artists?
  • Why does Apocalypse need a massive pyramid for his transference?
  • We see the SR-21 X Jet, but it’s not flown. The mutants fly a different jet they steal from Stryker’s lair.
  • (-2) The Stryker dam imprisonment scene felt endless and unnecessary.

Summary (22/68): 32%

No X-Men movie has begged for a change like Apocalypse. It’s not the franchise’s worst, but it is the most underwhelming.

Apocalypse could be the most powerful single villain in movie history. I don’t know if God has ever been a straight up villain, but Apocalypse could out-duel Zeus or Hades.

We have to think about it for a second. We don’t get to see it. Wasted potential will always be the best way to describe this movie.