I watched X-Men: Apocalypse on Monday. At midnight the construction crews outside my house were using some incredibly loud machine that was literally vibrating my condo from 12 floors away. Since sleep was not likely to come to me I had to figure out something else to do. The solution I came up with was to watch a bad superhero movie that I wouldn't mind quitting halfway through if the machine stopped.
I went into Apocalypse with low expectations, you see. I knew the critics hated it. I picked it because I knew I would be willing to stop watching it partway through.
It failed to meet my expectations, even then.
When I think about superhero movies that utterly fail I find they have many things in common. They regularly try to shoehorn too many stories into the movie and end up with boring characters and rushed plot. Apocalypse did this spectacularly. It tried to have a character arc for Jean Grey, Magneto, Cyclops, Angel, Quicksilver, Storm, Professor X, and Mystique. That doesn't even include the main villain!
Now I get that X-Men movies are ensemble hero movies, so you are going to have some amount of story spread around, but that was WAY too much to try to do in a single outing. You need a couple characters that the plot focuses on that have good development and go through changes and the rest of the crew just does the thing you expect and fills out the background. Trying to do too much just leaves every single interaction feeling rushed, unsupported, and deeply unsatisfying.
Directors should bloody well know this. Studios that hand directors hundreds of millions of dollars to make movies should bloody well know this. When there is this much money on the line, how does everyone fail so spectacularly at knowing basic things?
It wasn't just the heroes that were overdone though. Apocalypse himself was a total bore. Powerful villains can be fun even though the best ones are usually not particularly powerful at all, like Joker or Lex Luthor. Unfortunately the movie portrays Apocalypse in ways that are absurd. He can wave his hand and simply cause people's heads to fall off. He can level a city and reform the smashed bits of it into a fantastically complicated, kilometer tall temple in a few seconds. He can teleport, regenerate, empower others, control all technology, and turn other people's powers against them. He can shrug off outrageously powerful physical, psychic, and magical attacks like nothing.
Worst of all though is his powers were unbounded. Each scene the director granted him some new and completely absurd power that he would conveniently forget to use in the next scene. Where were his instant death attacks and city smashing powers when he was in a fight? Why didn't he simply teleport away when things got bad, or cause all of the X-Men's heads to fall off?
Apocalypse also completely lacked any personality or unique features. He wanted to destroy the world for no particular reason. He had no weaknesses, no individuality, nothing to make him remotely interesting or relatable. Apocalypse wanted to destroy the world because he was a villain, and that is what they do, right?
Apocalypse didn't frighten me. He wasn't interesting. It was clear that his powers weren't a problem for the heroes to solve, but rather a plot device that was made up fresh every five minutes.
Speaking of powers that weren't used, the heroes were just as bad. Quicksilver is a hero who can move so quickly he can casually walk around explosions while they are happening. Not just that, but when a massive explosion is wrecking a gigantic mansion he is capable of rescuing 30 people who are all simultaneously a few meters from an advancing wall of flame in various parts of the building.
And yet he forgets to use his ability to save the day to stop the evil soldiers, rescue the lad in distress, or to easily beat up the villains threatening his less powerful friends. He could have defeated the plot of the enemies and pounded them all into submission quite handily. Apocalypse himself was apparently a bit too powerful for Quicksilver to defeat, but any other challenge the heroes found out about was utterly trivial... unless Quicksilver conveniently forgot about his powers, which he did whenever the plot called for it.
The last thing that absolutely drove me nuts about this movie was the way the characters themselves ignored the plot of the movie. Just before the ending Magneto, empowered by Apocalypse, was busy destroying the earth. He was simultaneously smashing every city on the planet to rubble, shattering bridges, knocking down buildings, sinking ships, and launching pieces of metal in random directions across the globe. The mayhem he was causing would have killed millions of people. He finally had a change of heart away from total global annihilation and decided to fight against Apocalypse instead.
Everyone ignored the genocide part. As soon as the fight ended he was buddy buddy with the X-Men again, and everyone was completely chill with the fact that he was the biggest mass murderer in history. MILLIONS dead at his hands, and the other characters just shrug it off without a blink.
Its cool. He's on our team again. Until, you know, he gets in another one of his moods and tries to wipe out humanity a second time.
How can you expect anyone to take your plot seriously when the characters themselves completely ignore it? I get that you want to raise the stakes and use CGI to show us world landmarks being destroyed, but why pay for that CGI if the people in the world pretend that it isn't even happening?
What a travesty.