This is not a review of X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), but let’s discuss that movie’s robots. In the tradition of Terminator, and I know that sounds nuts, the sentinels in X-Men: Days of Future Past are top-echelon movie robots – fast, relentless, awesome-looking, so dangerous that they repeatedly, and viciously, kill all the X-Men, except Kitty Pryde and whomever she sends back in time. A worthy enemy like the sentinels adds weight to Wolverine’s mission in that movie, to prevent them from ever being built, and makes the action scenes at the beginning and end truly thrilling.
That’s where X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) falls on its face. The bad guy, Apocalypse, has a scary name but is totally beatable, an unworthy opponent for a giant team of super-powered mutants. Expository dialogue tells us Apocalypse is all-powerful, able to destroy the world if he wants, yet he comes across as slow and often helpless, needing constant protection from brainwashed mutant bodyguards.
Worst is how stupid he looks. Apocalypse’s cakey blue face looks like he covered up an allergic reaction. He looks like a hard-ass old woman. When his eyes roll back and he languidly conjures his confusing mutant powers, the effect isn’t scary so much as cheesy. Imagine a goofy witch in a low-budget horror bomb.
It’s too bad a good actor, Oscar Isaac, is lost beneath under all that cheesy makeup. Lots of great stuff is buried under the cheese of X-Men: Apocalypse. Wolverine, the greatest X-Man, has a violent and perfect cameo, and master thespian Michael Fassbender brings his Brando-esque emotional intensity to the villain Magneto. Forced out of hiding by tragedy, Magneto kills 12 men with a locket, then screams up at God, “IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT FROM ME?!” A holocaust survivor, he teleports to Auschwitz and destroys what’s left.
As meaty as those and other scenes are, they can’t transcend the pall of a crappy, overblown arch-nemesis. The X-Men don’t fight Apocalypse the way they fought the sentinels, as though their lives were at stake. They fight like bored actors surrounded by special effects. They fight like it’s cheese.