In one of X-Men: Apocalypse’s rare comedic moments, a group of rebellious teenage mutants go to the mall and watch Return of the Jedi. Not only does this scene provide yet another ham-fisted reminder that “Hey, it’s 1983!” but it also leads to a strange meta-commentary on the film itself. Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) argues with Jubilee (Lana Condor) about which movie is better—the original Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back—and a young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) jokes that no matter which one is best, everybody knows the third movie in a trilogy is always the worst.
What exactly is X-Men: Apocalypse trying to do with this joke? Is it aware that it’s not as good as 2011’s First Class or 2014’s Days of Future Past? Is it trying to poke fun at its critics, or preemptively ward off criticism? It’s a weird moment, and it makes you laugh a little too hard because by that point in the film it’s already clear that Apocalypse is just as bad as 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand—another overstuffed third instalment that’s big on set pieces and light on character development.
Apocalypse’s basic plot involves the world’s oldest mutant (Oscar Isaac) waking up and deciding to destroy human civilization. He recruits four horsemen, including the film’s most developed character, Michael Fassbender’s Magneto. The core of the new X-Men trilogy is still the relationship between Magneto and James McAvoy’s Professor X (Jennifer Lawrence’s bored, barely there Mystique fails to register as a key player like she did in the last two films). But at this point, it feels like the movie has nothing new to say about their relationship, the relationship between mutants and humans, or anything at all.
Apocalypse has too many characters, and it doesn’t devote enough time to any one of them for their fights to have any meaning. The best thing that can be said about X-Men: Apocalypse is that it makes Captain America: Civil War look amazing by comparison. Anyone who’s looking for a fun Marvel summer movie should just go see Captain America again and enjoy how much attention it gives to each character in its sprawling cast.
Directed by Bryan Singer