Last hurrahBryan Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse is easily his worst received superhero film yet, earning 52% on Metacritic and even worse in Rotten Tomatoes--a considerable comedown from Days of Future Past, which managed to tell a chronologically complicated storyline and combine the cast of both adult and adolescent X-Men pictures in a way that enhances that film's complex (if shallow) view of history.
Truth is there's plenty the matter with this production, from the overcomplicated plot (at least Days had the virtue of explaining it all away as being the fault of time travel--basically complications of the "they messed up the timeline and now we have to fix it" variety) to the less-than-awe-inspiring Darkseid ripoff played by Oscar Isaac (who managed more softspoken menace and intensity in his Abel Morales only two years back; heck managed to radiate more menace as a guitar player only three years back) to the overstuffed cast of dozens with personalities that have been barely developed and superpowers that barely register (now that Nightcrawler dude--what can he do again?).Which strangely matters less than you might think; Singer is continuing a story he's been telling for the past sixteen years, not of a band of young mutants struggling to find a foothold in a hostile world, but of two longstanding--rivals? comrades?--struggling to preserve their volatile relationship in a hostile world. Ian McKellen as Erik Lehnsherr and Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier evoke pages of unexplored history between them in the final scene of the first film, even if it lasted a mere few minutes; they may be playing chess in a metal-free maximum-security prison but the two actors somehow suggest that they actually sit in a living room or private study, they're that comfortable with each other. X2 didn't give them any significant scenes of intimacy, though Erik does show he cares enough to join a group effort to rescue Charles; their story really continues in X-Men: First Class, where a young Erik (Michael Fassbinder) meets a young Charles (James MacAvoy) for the first time (Matthew Vaughn directed, but from a screenplay Singer helped develop and produce). The rest of the picture is spent establishing their profound mutual affection and equally profound disagreements--significantly Charles has a devoted companion in Moira (Rose Byrne) and Erik a powerful acolyte in Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), but you only have to see the two men together to realize who constitute the real couple. In Days of Future Past Charles and Erik spend much of the 60s fighting each other while in the future they fight beside each other--the idea of boyish McAvoy and vibrant Fassbinder violently at odds someday growing into the lined, weathered faces of Stewart and McKellen standing side-by-side seem somehow reassuring, as if the relationship for all its sturm und drang promises an ultimately ascendant trajectory.Erik and Charles meet as adversaries in X-Men: Apocalypse, and if Isaac's eponymous villain (En Sabah Nur as he's otherwise known) has any useful function at all it's to convince the pair to meet up and work together--unlike in Marvel Studio's other commercial properties, the machinations of the so-called 'universe' seem to come second to the machinations of the pair's tormented relationship. Or--in this picture at least--a lot of fuss is devoted to detailing that 'universe' but the only scenes that really stick to memory are Erik and Charles' moments together. It's as if the finale with all its sound and fury were just some provision Singer had to execute in his contract, but once finished is quickly swept aside in favor of what he really wanted to do--one more Erik and Charles moment, yet another brief little scene that Fassbinder and MacAvoy (channeling McKellen and Stewart) pull off with grace and enviable ease. And if Singer is bowing out with this picture, as he seems to hint he's doing in at least one interview (without actually saying so)--if he's ending his story with a departure that isn't really a departure, between friends who aren't really saying goodbye (but aren't saying so with a note of finality)--you can't help but think: not a bad way to go. Lousy comic-book storytelling for sure, and poison in the boxoffice perhaps, but for a relationship picture (which after all is said and done are what the six X-Men movies really are) it's like a lingering bittersweet farewell kiss with just the suggestion of a promise that maybe--just maybe--you'll see each other again.