"Well, at least we can all agree, the third one is always the worst" chuckles Sophie Turner's Jean Grey after sneaking out with her peers to go and see Return of the Jedi. Whether this a sly dig at the poor reception of 2006's X Men: The Last Stand or a eyebrow raising self assesment of the very film presented, Bryan Singer creates a film that zips along nicely with plenty of fun to be had, but ultimately struggles to overcome an uneven pace, the bar set high by its successor Days of Future Past and a villain so lacklustre that feels wasted on the very talented Oscar Isacc.
The film follows the establishment of En Sabah Nur, better known as Apocalypse, as he awakens from a millennial sleep and deems the world around him as inferior, so with the help of his four hoursemen, he plans to bring...well, the apocalypse. Alongside that, Singer gives us new incarnations of the mutants we know and love as they learn to control their powers and, importantly, learn how to function as a unit in order to become X Men. After a strong opening that racks up the tension and sets up Apocalypse to be the intimidating, imposing villain we want him to be, he, disparagingly falls back into the shadows. He is literally given NOTHING to do except utter a few sentences about how disappointed he is by the world. Though, I think the character itself isn't particularly strong so Oscar Isacc is only doing the best he can in a role that doesn't require much. What breaks this monotonous stretch is the youthful additions to the cast, such as Tye Sheridan's Cyclops or Kodi Smit-McPhee's Nightcrawler; even Even Peters is back as Quicksilver, continuing to steal every scene he's in. This youthful energy injects a fresh attitude back into the franchise, making you feel excited for future films to come, seeing how all these characters interact with one another and form those pivotal relationships with one another. Singer has fun with the kids, harking back to the early days of Singer's X Men franchise, though some characters are clearly imposed onto the film to please the fans rather than add anything to the story, see Jubilee for example.
Though, not everyone's characterisation adds to the film or evolves. James McAvoy slips back into the comfortable role of Professor X, ever so much fading now into the background but still has shining moments in his scenes with Jean, though his character isn't given any more thought or insight as it might have done in previous films. Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique is truly a bore to watch as her character is given the same is-she-good-or-is-she-bad dilemma, which worked in First Class but after three films just becomes tiresome. Sometimes she just stands on the ground not particularly doing anything. Think back to the first X Men with Rebecca Romijn, she moved with such poise and such grace, from the arch of her feet to the tip of her toe and proved that she wasn't to be messed with. Lawrence just stands and talks at people, which is questionable, and potentially shows that the writing team simply do not know what to do with her any-more. The same dilemma is forced upon Magneto who, aside from a powerfully moving scene early on in the film, is predictably shown to waver back toward the good side. He loses any sense of real threat or menace, especially as a recruit of Apocalypse.
Which brings me to my next point of how much Apocalypse's horsemen were severely underused. I didn't care at all for Ben Hardy's Angel, however I was so excited to see a young Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) kick some butt, but they're rendered useless. The latter packs a physical punch or two but lacks anything in the form of humanity or a shred of emotion, and it did annoy me slightly how out of everyone's practical, well calibrated costumes, Psylocke's (albeit very faithful to her costume in the comics) was the only one that felt a little sexualised. But I digress. They run around doing everything for Apocalypse, though he's meant to be this all powerful being, and he just stands and watches. It feels so far-fetched and just downright silly, and interjecting moments of light funny relief with the kids in amongst Apocalypse planning to destroy the world feels so jarring, creating a massively uneven tone throughout the film. The uneven tone contributes toward an uneven pace, which is more obvious in a very slow middle act taking place in a Weapon X Facility (featuring a very ferocious cameo), it halts proceedings and takes an unnecessarily long time to get things moving again, and even then things feel a little lifeless.
Lacking the gravitas and tonal variation of its proceeder, X Men: Apocalypse still has enough fun moments and nods to its source material that make it worth watching, but it still struggles with a weak and underdeveloped villain.