X-Men: Apocalypse marks the ninth installment in Fox's attempts to dial in the right combination to get a hit out of Marvel's classic team of Mutants. Even going in with a strong desire to enjoy the latest installment wasn't enough to prevent coming away with the sense of bleak resignation that Fox's path just is too disconnected from the material to ever be reliably successful. Of course there could also be the fact that of the nine X-Men films, the only two that were really good weren't written and helmed by Bryan Singer.
This time there's even less of an excuse for things to have gone off the rails – all the right elements are at hand. The massive budget, a fan base that's hungry for any reason to cheer, a deep wealth of source material to draw from, and once again a solid cast. This time there's even the introduction of several new actors in various roles notably Alexandra Shipp as Storm, Olivia Munn as Psylocke and Game of Thrones' Sophie Turner as Jean Grey. It's like Singer was given the keys to a sportscar but then couldn't do anything but grind the gears.
This time we go back to ancient Egypt where En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) rules as the first mega-powerful mutant and envisions himself a god. Finally the humans rebel, seeking to entomb him within a pyramid, but his co-mutants sacrifice themselves, pouring their power into preserving his life and putting him into suspended animation. Cut to 1983 (because it seems Fox has a strange fascination with having the stories take place during the original years that the comics were written while keeping nearly nothing else about the fiction intact), and Apocalypse is dug up and he finds the world lacking and in need of him conquering everything to set it to rights.
At least in First Class (the fourth film released), director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn came up with a compelling backstory and used his cast effectively. Now Singer has an even better mix of characters but yet does nearly nothing with them. Here Apocalypse pops from place to place turning various X-Men into his own version of the Four Horsemen, making them mute slaves. Great, so characterization is out the window, and once again Singer can't balance the power-levels of his Mutants so we have a bad guy who's presented as basically a god, along with his Horsemen, and it's Xavier and the remaining students having to make a last pitched stand. The performances literally feel phoned in. There's nearly zero passion being presented by everyone, and it definitely feels like none of the actors are having the least bit of fun. When you think of any of the great team-films, from Ocean's Eleven to Avengers, the fact that the cast is bought in and giving it their all plays a visible role on-screen – here there's none of it, and it reads every bit as much.
Originally it felt like it might have just needed some time over at the Fox and Singer offices to get their targeting dialed in. They've had time, and in fact had 7 films directly under his watch, and right now he's batting 0% of them being good. So they're batting par with their other Marvel property, the Fantastic Four. Hopefully they'll either bring in a new production team, call back Vaughn, or give the keys back to Marvel and step away.
But Apocalypse isn't anything other than a harbinger of the twilight of their own fanbase. Skip it, go back and watch First Class, Deadpool, and the first 10 minutes of X-Men 2 again and you'll be far happier.