The historic heart and soul of comic book movies have been heroes of remarkable power fighting to defeat a villain who threatens the very world. It’s the basis of The Avengers, several of the Superman films, and a few of the X-Men films. But because this story has been told so many times, it risks becoming stale. So new imaginative, sometimes smaller-scale stories must be constructed in order to inject life into this comic book movies, where the villain isn’t necessarily going to destroy the whole world, or sometimes, like in Captain America: Civil War, there isn’t a big bad guy at all.
X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse reveres this natural course of comic book evolution. The former is an immensely entertaining film where good guys have already lost and they use time travel in a last-ditch attempt to reset the future. Several people serve in an antagonist role throughout the film (Trask, Mystique, Magneto, Stryker, arguably even Charles Xavier) but none is really the big bad guy. This is in stark contrast with X-Men: Apocalypse, where not only the bad guy is bad, but he’s the baddest bad guy whose ever badded in the whole bad universe. Ok, whatever.
That’s why Apocalypse feels immensely disappointing. It isn’t just a bad film, but since the mark was set so high with Days of Future Past, we expected so much more. It’s one thing if you go to In-n-Out burger for the first time and have a bad meal. It’s immeasurably worse when you’ve had nothing but great double doubles and then finally get one that was undercooked and didn’t have animal style sauce. The expectation of quality makes the unexpected lack of quality that much more defeating.
This is strange, because Apocalypse is still actually one of the coolest and most interesting mutants in the X-Men comic books and cartoon series. But everything about him falls flat in this movie. None of the charisma, none of the deep, intimidating voice who excites you just as much as he fills you with fear. Just a bunch of slow-walking and standing around as other people do his bidding. Plus, we can only do the Professor X and Magneto are “now best friends oh wait now they’re worst enemies jk they’re friends again” thing so many times. The movie made a formidable effort to get us to remember and care about characters like Jean Grey and Cyclops again, but you can’t not feel creeped out when Logan starts his crush on the then-not-even-21 years old Sophie Turner. We already got the reintroduction movie with First Class. Apocalypse tries to be First Class plus The Avengers sprinkled in with a small Wolverine short film, and none of it comes together.
After Apocalypse came out, we then got Deadpool and Logan, which if you consider to both be X-Men films, were easily among the best. It’s interesting, because with these two films, Twentieth Century Fox realized they can almost be the anti-Avengers or anti-Marvel. They have this whole universe of rich characters, where literally every single X-Men (save for Cyclops) is interesting and worthy of their own film, but none of the films really have to be coherently connected or building up to something larger like Inifinity War. You could have a Logan movie that was nothing more than just a solid Logan movie. You could have a Deadpool movie that leads to another Deadpool movie, but doesn’t have to fit into the larger puzzle of whatever James McAvoy or Patrick Stewart are piecing.
That’s really what makes Days of Future Past so rewarding. It does appear to be the ultimate, lets-get-everyone-together-for-one-big-showdown X-Men movie, but at the end of it, it’s like it never even existed in the larger X-Men universe at all. With Apocalypse, now everything is traveling on a much more narrow road because they tried to make so much happen. We’re going to have to see what new Jean and new Cyclops are up to, what new way Professor X and Magneto will end up hating each other again, what Logan is up to, so many requirements and expectations that need to be met. Days of Future Past, Deadpool and Logan show that a stand-alone story is often more rewarding than a giant universe struggle. We aren’t expecting now another X-Men film with the original cast, now that they’ve reappeared in Days of Future Past. They just waved and smiled and bid us adieu, leaving us open to a world of possibilities.