There is a scene in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) when En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), known more familiarly by the villainous sobriquet in the title, reemerges from his millenniums long slumber to an avalanche of stone and other masonry. There is a group of people fleeing in panic. Seeing this, the old man I live with ad-libbed for them, saying, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” I then quickly corrected him, “I think you mean, ‘Let’s get the Egyptian afterlife out of here.” This was not solely the square Catholic in me and the concomitant aversion to using such words. It was, of course, our own Mystery Science Theater 3000 commentary for the several silly moments in this film. Its immediate predecessor, X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), already turned up the goofy meter on the franchise with its ridiculous time travel plot. I also forgot to mention in my review yesterday the scene where Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) says that President John F. Kennedy was a mutant. Seriously. I had a good laugh at that point. In X-Men: Apocalypse, the premise is that there is this ancient baddy who, of course, wants to rule the world. Despite all previous X-Men films asserting that humans with genetic mutations that grant them special abilities are a recent development, Apocalypse is billed as the first mutant. Why nobody bothered to awake him in the roughly 5,000 years between his entombment and the modern day is anybody’s guess, but that is the scene referred to in the first few sentences. And I am just getting started.
Yes, X-Men: Apocalypse takes us back to ancient Egypt and the time of the pharaohs. Outside a pyramid are a group of revelers, and inside Apocalypse is attempting to transplant his consciousness into another body. Apparently there is cadre of guards who are not keen on this happening, and they attempt to seal Apocalypse into a rocky enclosure and crush him in it. This is where his four horsemen intervene, who are also mutants and despite that idea not being one that comes around until Christian times. Whatever. While they are not able to kill Apocalypse thanks to his acolytes, they do manage to entrap him underground. The opening credits then zoom through the next 5,000 years of history, none of which has to do with our story, but I suppose it looks neat. We then stop in 1983 in Germany where Angel (Ben Hardy) is forced to fight Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) arrives to put a stop to the brutal display, making off with Nightcrawler, though he prefers to be called by his birth name Kurt Wagner. Angel goes . . . elsewhere. It then shifts to show us what Erik is up to these days. Apparently he has settled down in Poland. He has adopted a new identity, got married, and he has a daughter. But when he saves the life of a co-worker at the steel factory he works in, his secret is revealed. The authorities then arrive, and in the process of apprehending him they inadvertently kill his wife and child (implausibly with one arrow, but whatever). While all this is going on, Apocalypse is busy recruiting a new four horsemen. Talk about an insecure villain! Has to have his precious four horsemen! I digress. These include Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and the aforementioned Angel. Their last recruit is Erik, and because his default is human domination, he decides to go along with them and once more adopts the mantle of Magneto. By the way, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has not been idle all this time, either. His school for gifted youngsters is thriving with a new group of students, including younger versions familiar X-Men like Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan). Raven also brings Kurt to the school. However, while using Cerebro, Xavier opens himself to Apocalypse, who senses a mind in Xavier that can be used to control the world. Thus Apocalypse makes Xavier his next target for a mind transplant, teleporting directly the school to kidnap him. Gosh, this is tedious. Let me see if I can speed this up a bit. . . . School blows up. Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters) saves (mostly) everyone. Useless side-plot involving Colonel William Stryker (Josh Helman) to shoehorn in Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Raven leads Moria Mactaggert (Rose Byrne), Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Jean Grey, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Quicksilver to save Xavier. Mutant fight. Magneto redeems himself. Jean Grey reveals the Phoenix force and destroys Apocalypse. They all rebuild the school. The end.
There is so . . . MUCH . . . wrong with X-Men: Apocalypse. I discussed in recent reviews of X-Men movies how they are all supposed to work together as one meta-narrative, even if you have two different casts and they are filmed out of chronological order. It appears as if no one bothered to go back and look at the first three installments in the franchise. I cannot say I blame them. They are pretty bad too. It annoys me more in this one in many ways, but I will try to boil it down to two. Take Nightcrawler. I related in my review of X2: X-Men United (2003) my love of this character. He seems to be an avowed Catholic, and I credit his Faith for a humbleness that is perhaps his strongest quality, even more so than his ability to teleport (bamf!). In X2: X-Men United he acts as if he had never met any of the X-Men before, and that takes place twenty years after the events of X-Men: Apocalypse when he meets and joins the team. Does that mean the other film never happens because of X-Men: Days of Future Past? This is so confusing. The other aspect I want to mention is the whole Stryker base side-quest. After (most) everyone escapes the school explosion, Stryker shows up, knocks out everyone there except for Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler, and makes off with Mystique, Beast, and Moira (for some reason). The other three stowaway on the helicopter that takes them to Stryker’s base, the scene of the climactic events in X2: X-Men United. This is where Logan had the metal attached to his skeleton that turns him in Wolverine, and he apparently recently had the procedure done in X-Men: Apocalypse as he is still under Stryker’s control. That is until Jean Grey releases him and he murders pretty much everyone in the base before she eases his addled mind and he wanders off into the snow. What is terrible about this sequence is that it has literally nothing to do with the main thrust of the story, that being stopping Apocalypse. Stryker is in no way in league with Apocalypse, and never do the two meet. Stryker also manages to escape the base, implying that he would still be around to do the things he does in the other film. Thus the awful works on two levels: none of what happens in this film makes sense in relation to other films, and the Stryker stuff could have been left out and it would have made as much sense. Come on. Just have Moira provide them with some transportation to where Apocalypse is and be done with it. She does work for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), after all. Oh yeah, and where was she during X-Men: Days of Future Past? Okay, I will stop, but I could go on and on and on and on. . . .
So I mentioned earlier that X-Men: Apocalypse‘s title villain has a set of main henchmen he refers to as his four horsemen. Whoever originally wrote the character decided to throw together a bunch of ancient sounding terms and ideas regardless of whether or not they have anything to do with one another. In reality, the Egyptians had their own ideas about the end of the world separate from Christian ones, though there is a loose common ancestry between them. To be sure, an apocalypse will come one day, but no one knows when that will be. Only God has that knowledge. The imagery in the four horsemen Marvel borrowed from Christianity are also meant to be metaphors for things that could bring about our doom. They are conquest (often depicted as the anti-Christ to avoid overlap, I suppose), war, plague, and famine. They are not Archangel (though the comparisons are tempting), Storm, Psylocke, and Magneto. Still, the Bible is not meant to be always be taken literally (fight me), though many throughout the centuries and today look at things going on in the world as indications that the end is nigh. Again, this is not up to us. For His part, Jesus tells us that all we can do is prepare, and that it is not useful to go looking for such signs. A heart dedicated to God will be ready when the time comes.
Thankfully, X-Men: Apocalypse is the last of these films that I can review in the franchise as we already did X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019). That one is pretty bad too, and it further complicates the strange relationship between these films and the earlier ones since it kills off Mystique . . . who is clearly alive in the first three! Ugh. Actually, X-Men: Apocalypse has my favorite scene in all these dreadful movies. It is when Quicksilver arrives at the school just as it is being rocked by an explosion (why that happens is still a mystery, but, again, whatever). Him flitting around the school with “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurhythmics playing in the background is funny and entertaining. You can watch the whole sequence on YouTube. Skip the rest of the movie.