So… I watched X-Men: Apocalypse this past weekend and was underwhelmed.
A lot of critics and fans are not disagreeing with me, but I’m not going to just begin and end with some ultimately subjective and unhelpful statement like “it sucks”. In analyzing my feelings and reasonings as to why I emerged from the theater with an ambivalent reaction, one thing kept coming up in my mind, which is that if this film had come out in 2007 I would probably have found it awesome.
Okay, awesome may be an overstatement, but since the movie itself can’t help but take a swipe at 2006’s X-Men: Last Stand, let’s go there. Man did I hate (and still hate) Last Stand. Some critics have gone so far as to declare Apocalypse worse than Last Stand. They are wrong. Again, had Apocalypse released just one year later, I probably would have hailed it as the savior of the franchise. A fresh start ready to right all the wrongs, and damn the continuity. As a longtime comics fan, I am quite inured to the idea of retcons and reboots if it promises that mistakes will be addressed.
No, the main issue with X-Men: Apocalypse is that it did not release in 2007, one year after Last Stand — but more importantly one year before The Dark Knight and Iron Man. It has released now in 2016, in a much altered landscape where it seems as lost as its titular antagonist, and just like him ultimately fails to be relevant despite the power at its disposal. Just a scant few weeks after Captain America: Civil War where the presence of twelve different superheroes was successfully juggled, with each given character arcs and memorable moments, along comes a movie with the same unresolved problems X-Men films have had in the past, where a good number of the onscreen mutants end up little more than snazzy window dressing. Are you one of the people who complained Ant-Man or Spider-Man seemed shoved into Civil War for no reason and to no good purpose? Oh boy, they seem downright mission critical compared to Jubilee, Angel or even Storm.
And hey, you know, before I saw Civil War… or hell, Avengers, that would have been fine. I would have been content in the idea that you can’t feature a team of superheroes and have them all feel important. Of course you’d have to structure it as Xavier and Magneto (and some other guys), or Wolverine (and some other guys), or Mystique (and some other guys). Of course I’d have to wait sixteen years for a barely related movie that didn’t even have the X-prefix to give me an actually memorable Colossus. Let’s not get crazy here, right?
Welp, there’s the big problem. Now I’ve seen it done. Now I’ve seen just about everything Apocalypse had to offer, already done, and arguably done in superior fashion. Hell, sometimes in a previous X-movie. Sometimes just in movies, period. I suppose I won’t get into spoilery specifics, but man, there are some hoary old tropes resurrected for Apocalypse, and — okay, spoiler — the X-mansion blows up, which just a few months ago was a Deadpool punchline.
My parents who paid for our tickets enjoyed Apocalypse, and some friends enjoyed it, and if you enjoyed it, too? No worries. But from my standpoint, I can’t help grading it on the curve and feeling like Bryan Singer is still stuck in the ghost of comic book movies past no matter how much his characters mess around with the timeline, still recycling the same old character relationships and conflicts when there is so much more of a vast universe of X-Material out there that Fox has the catalog rights to. It was excusable back in the day when the superhero genre was still figuring out how to best present itself, but now? That’s probably why something I might generously rate a solid B minus is coming off to a lot of folks like an outright failure.