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X-Men Apocalypse: The Retro FAQ

Seriously, putting Oscar Isaac in this goofy-ass make-up was a crime and this movie should go to jail.
Seriously, putting Oscar Isaac in this goofy-ass make-up was a crime and this movie should go to jail.
Screenshot: Disney/Marvel

As you are no doubt aware, Movies Have (Basically) Stopped. Almost all the movies that used to be being made are no longer being made and those of us who depend on making fun of the summer’s crappy nerdy blockbusters for their livelihoods are in a pickle. How can I, as someone who has professionally hated things for two full decades, make a buck when the future is currently bereft of films to hate? There’s only one answer: It’s time to look into the past.

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Or, to put it more simply, I’m using my patented “FAQs” to answer the questions you had about older superhero and science fiction flicks that I didn’t answer, probably because I didn’t want to subject myself to yet another shitty movie at the time. Now, though, beggars can’t be choosers, which means I just sat through X-Men: Apocalypse, a movie that should be in prison for its criminal misuse of Oscar Isaac. Enjoy...?

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Where does X-Men: Apocalypse sit in the X-film franchise?

It’s the sixth movie in the X-Men film franchise, assuming you skip the Wolverine solo flicks and Deadpool, and the third movie in the First Class continuity/universe. It’s also the first First Class film to truly, truly suck.

What’s its problem?

Several things, as we’ll discuss. But really it’s less a movie than a checklist where director and alleged super-creep Bryan Singer started throwing in whatever popular X-characters he hadn’t gotten around to yet, including ones that had yet to show up in the movies.

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Shouldn’t including fan-favorite characters be a good thing?

Yeah, if there’s something for them to do. With the exception of the new, young versions of Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler, the rest of these characters barely figure into the movie’s plot, if at all.

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Hmm. So what is the movie about?

As the label on the tin says, the movie is about the…well, I’m not sure popular is the correct word, but the prominent X-villain named Apocalypse, who is over 5,000 years old, possibly the first mutant ever, and a real big fan of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory. As a result, he likes causing apocalypses to weed out the weak (presumably humans) and leave the strong, which he figures will be mostly (if not all) mutants.

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Why is he so interested in killing off weak people?

I don’t know. For kicks, I guess.

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What are Apocalypse’s powers?

That’s a great question. Wikipedia lists the movie version of Apocalypse as having “various abilities, such as telepathy, telekinesis, technopathy, teleportation, flight, cellular regeneration, matter and energy manipulation, mutant enhancement, protective shielding, enhanced adaptive skills, and superhuman physical attributes” which covers a lot of bases. He mostly uses his power to amplify a mutant’s powers and to break down and control non-organic material, as he does when he turns most of Cairo, Egypt into a giant magic sci-fi pyramid that has a solar-powered consciousness swapper.

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Um, why does Apocalypse have a giant magic sci-fi pyramid?

When he gets old and decrepit, he puts his mind in a fresh body. Although apparently, he doesn’t need it often because when he swaps bodies in 3600 BCE he stays in perfect health until a half-dozen nitwits reawaken him in 1983 (when the film is set).

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That’s what he does with it. I’m asking where did he get it? He’s just a mutant, right? And not an alien?

Exactly right. Presumably, Apocalypse got the pyramid in the same place he got his high-tech body armor and sci-fi head tubes. There’s an answer for this shit in the comics, but since the movie refuses to explain it, I’m not going to either.

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That’s annoying. Okay, so what are the old X-Men up to?

It’s been 10 years since Days of Future Past took place, in which Magneto tried to murder Nixon. The X-Men have disbanded and Professor X refuses to reform them to focus on peace, which his pal Beast disagrees with. Mystique is traveling around the world looking to save mutants from bad situations. Magneto—who of course is not an X-Men member but I assume you also want an update on—is peacefully hiding as a steelworker in Poland with a wife and young daughter.

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Who are the new mutant characters in the movie?

There are a lot, so settle in. Here are just the good guys: Jean Grey is already a student at Professor X’s school and having Phoenix nightmares. Cyclops gets his eye laser powers and is taken to the school by his older brother Havok. Nightcrawler gets rescued from an underground mutant fight club cage match by Mystique. Jubilee also attends the school and plays no part in the movie.

What about the bad guys?

Let me introduce them as the movie does, starting with Apocalypse. It’s in the past, and the villain rules some portion of Egypt. However, he’s also very old, so he gets in the magic sci-fi pyramid to transfer his mind into a young, hot, bald man with Wolverine-style healing factor while his four mutant minions—which eventually the movie dubs his “Four Horsemen”—watch over him. Unfortunately, since he’s a despotic asshole, some of the humans rebel by knocking a single block down a ramp into the pyramid, demolishing it completely, like it was a proton torpedo going into the Death Star’s exhaust port. The minions are killed, Apocalypse is trapped under several thousand tons of rubble.

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Seems like a problem.

Seems like poor magic sci-fi mind-swapping pyramid construction to me. Cut to 2016 1983, the sand has covered everything and Cairo sits on top. Half a dozen or so dipshits try to resurrect Apocalypse for some reason, which is exactly what happens when sunlight hits the golden tippy-top of the ex-pyramid. Apocalypse wanders around the city in a hilarious robe that somehow prevents people from noticing his bright blue-purple face, and finds young Storm, a mutant street urchin, and heads to her place where he puts his hand on a TV and learns everything about the world (and also English).

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The hell?

Turns out “sucking the entirety of human knowledge out of a television” is also one of his many ill-defined powers. And yes, before you ask, “sucking the entirety of human knowledge out of the internet” would have been equally goofy but at least make more sense.

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Ugh.

So Apocalypse decides to take over the planet. His first order of business is to collect his new “horsemen,” starting with Storm. Then he recruits a surprisingly game Psylocke and Angel, who busted one of his wings fighting Nightcrawler in the fight club. Apocalypse powers them all up by amplifying Storm’s weather control, replacing Angel’s bird wings with metal wings that also shoot blades (as per the comics), and, uh, does something to Psylocke that is not apparent at first, or at any point throughout the movie.

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Wait. Weren’t Storm, Angel, and Psylocke good guys in the original X-Men trilogy?

Yes.

And aren’t they good guys in the comics?

Yes.

So why are they bad guys in this?

Because Singer had a checklist of the most popular remaining X-Men to include, and prioritized character recognition over whether these characters made any goddamn sense in their assigned roles. If it makes you feel any better, these three basically do nothing. Only Magneto has anything approaching a story arc.

It doesn’t make me feel better at all. So Magneto’s the fourth horseman?

Yep. After trying to assassinate the bejeezus out of Richard Nixon in Days of Future Past, he’s hiding in Poland with a new identity. He even has a wife and young daughter, who of course get murdered after Magneto blows his cover by saving a dude from a falling beam at the steel plant and the police try to arrest him at his home. It’s pretty hackneyed but the scene is redeemed slightly because the cop manages to shoot and kill Magneto’s wife and child with a single arrow. He let it loose completely by accident after Magneto’s daughter—a mutant with the ability to control animals—starts a mild Birdemic. A thoroughly bummed out Magneto kills a bunch of people, and Apocalypse finds him an easy recruit.

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I get why Magneto would sign up, since killing off most of humanity is on-brand for him. But why do Storm, Psylocke, and Angel join Apocalypse?

That’s an excellent question that the movie never, not even once, addresses.

Christ. What happens next?

A lot of things that don’t really matter. The movie brings back Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne) almost entirely for a scene when Professor X meets her and acts like a blubbering idiot (since they’d fallen in love in First Class until Xavier wiped her mind). Scott, Jean, Nightcrawler, and Jubilee go see Return of the Jedi to make a meta-joke about how the third movie in a trilogy “is always the worst” which backfires somewhat since Apocalypse was unequivocally the worst movie in the First Class-iverse.

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Well, until Dark Phoenix came out.

Agreed, but if you’re just looking at the initial “trilogy” of the new films, it’s still a prophecy that thinks it’s a joke. Anyways, things only start going when Xavier gets into Cerebro in hopes of finding Magneto before he reverts to his humanity-hating ways. Unfortunately, Xavier does not know Apocalypse exists yet, but Cerebro does technically connect him to every human and mutant in the world. So it’s easy for Apocalypse to reverse-hack the connection and dominate Xavier’s mind to use Cerebro and control everyone in the world with the ability to launch nuclear missiles, and then launch said missiles directly into space.

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Wait, what?

Don’t worry about it; the loss of the world’s entire arsenal of nuclear weapons also has no bearing whatsoever on the rest of the film. Havoc breaks the connection by destroying the Cerebro room with his chest beam, but now Apocalypse wants Xavier’s super-telekinesis/mind control powers for himself. He and his posse teleport to the X-Mansion, steal Xavier, and teleport away just before Havok blasts them with a beam—a beam that just happens to hit something that somehow causes the entire school to self-destruct.

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Bullshit.

Not in the slightest. Every single room in the mansion explodes, but the explosion goes no further than the building. I even have proof, since this dumb, dumb event precipitates the greatest scene in the movie: Quicksilver saving the school’s entire student body.

Wow.

Right? The only problems with this super-cool scene are 1) something completely absurd and arbitrary has to happen to kick it off, and 2) it doesn’t technically need to be in the film at all. The reason Quicksilver comes to the X-Mansion is in hopes of tracking down Magneto to reveal he’s Magneto’s son, which is something Quicksilver never does! So even though this scene is massively entertaining, it would have been significantly better if it mattered in some way.

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Given that the rest of the film has been crap so far, I’m glad it’s there.

Understable. Immediately after the explosion, the mutant-hating Colonel Stryker suddenly arrives, lands a helicopter on the front lawn, knocks out all the mutants with a stun cannon, and kidnaps all the major characters except for Cyclops, Jean, and Nightcrawler since they just arrived from seeing the movie. Jubilee also gets knocked out and effectively disappears for the rest of the film. Nightcrawler teleports the other two into the back of the chopper, which heads to Stryker’s secret base.

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What does Stryker want?

He ostensibly wants to interrogate them about Professor X being involved with shooting the world’s nuclear arsenal into space, but he never gets around to it. Honestly, this sequence also doesn’t matter at all to the main story. It exists for one simple reason, and that’s to give Hugh Jackman a cameo as Wolverine.

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Seems pretty innocuous.

I must admit the scene ends up being badass because when Jean frees Logan—who’s currently a mindless, savage killing machine courtesy of Stryker’s Weapon X program—he murders pretty much every single soldier in the base except for Stryker, who quickly realizes this is not a problem that can be contained and skates. It’s honestly cool to see Logan in full berserker mode, and the carnage is well-choreographed.

This also does not sound like a problem.

The problem is that when Scott, Jean, and Kurt discover their friends are kidnapped and currently in an electrified pit, instead of forming a plan to rescue them, they open a random cage door that randomly happens to include the solution to their problem. It’s absolutely a fun cameo and a fun scene, but it’s the laziest writing possible because it’s shoehorning in fan service even though it makes zero sense and adds nothing to the overall plot. It’s a glorified Easter egg that takes up like 10 minutes of screen time. None of the entire sequence matters, because Logan runs into the woods, everyone gets rescued, and then they all head to Cairo to confront Apocalypse.

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Wait a second. These two scenes are fun and cool, you said so yourself. Isn’t the movie better for having them?

Yes and no. Yes, because they mean at least part of the film’s runtime is enjoyable; no, because they serve no purpose to the plot, which means they don’t make the movie’s main story any better. They could be removed entirely and nothing in the movie would need to be changed. Let me put it this way—if you stick two delicious chocolate bars in a pile of shit, you haven’t improved the shit. The shit’s still shit.

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Fine. So what is Apocalypse’s evil plan? 

Apocalypse has a two-pronged plan for ruining and taking over the world. First, he amplifies Magneto’s powers, giving him the ability to slowly destroy the entire surface of the planet. Even though they’re all in Cairo, Magneto manages to disintegrate parts of New York City, the Sydney Opera House, and god knows how much more. He is killing millions of people as he does this, which is important to remember for later.

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Okay. Prong #2?

To transfer his consciousness into Xavier and steal the Professor’s immense telepathy powers, which he’ll use to mind control whoever survives the Magneto-geddon. Apocalypse disintegrates most of Cairo to form a new giant magic sci-fi mind-swapping pyramid, complete with golden tippy-top, for this purpose. That’s about when the X-Men arrive to save the day.

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Between Apocalypse’s million powers and his four minions, it sounds like this should be a hell of a battle.

It actually goes much easier than you’d think. Nightcrawler teleports to the pyramid’s mind-swapping room and steals Xavier before the process is complete but not before the process removes all the hair from Xavier’s head. Again, this makes no sense within the story, but it makes total sense if the movie wants Xavier to finally go bald and doesn’t give a shit how it happens.

What are Apocalypse’s other three minions doing during this?

Fighting for about half a minute and then getting their asses kicked. Storm gets knocked out real early, but when she wakes up she just hides and watches the fight unfold. Psylocke and Angel do a couple of things until they get lured onto the X-Men’s plummeting jet. Psylocke jumps off but also get knocked out and doesn’t show back up until Apocalypse has been beaten; Angel, the character who can literally fly, is less lucky and dies like a chump in the crash. Other than Magneto, these guys affect the story in zero ways. Again, they’re only there to fulfill a checklist.

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Ugh. What about Magneto?

Well, Mystique and Quicksilver run up to Magneto in hopes of convincing him to stop destroying the world. Now, since Magneto only joined Apocalypse because he’s super-bummed out about his family getting murdered, this would be the perfect place for Quicksilver to reveal his parentage, and for Magneto to ditch Apocalypse when he discovers he has another family he’d never known about.

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I think I see where this is goi—

QUICKSILVER DOES NOT DO THIS.

Instead of giving a natural, quality, and possibly even satisfying resolution for both character’s arcs, Quicksilver clams up, which makes him as superfluous to the movie’s plot as Psylocke, Storm, Angel, Moira, Logan, Stryker, and Jubilee. This means Mystique has to give a pep talk about how she and Xavier are Magneto’s family, which still doesn’t work until later when Apocalypse is choking the life out of Mystique while psychically beating up Xavier.

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But it’s satisfying when Magneto regains his humanity and starts attacking Apocalypse, right?

Well, maybe, if you don’t remember how Magneto has already bounced between good and evil several million times in the X-Men films. But this is somewhat more satisfying than when Storm arbitrarily starts attacking Apocalypse as well, despite the fact she was his employee 10 minutes ago.

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Really?

Yes. Not that it matters, since none of their attacks have any effect on Apocalypse. Even Cyclops and Xavier jump in to help, the former shooting his eyebeam and the latter trying to attack Apocalypse mentally (and getting his ass handed to him almost immediately).

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So how do they beat Apocalypse?

Xavier asks Jean for a Phoenix ex Machina, and her power disintegrates Apocalypse with ease. It’s sort of a shame Xavier didn’t think to ask his most powerful student to step in a tad bit earlier.

Please tell me we’re almost done.

Homestretch. After the fight, Psylocke sneaks off. Storm is immediately accepted as one of the good guys despite the fact she was a bad guy for almost the entirety of the film. At the mansion, Xavier and Magneto have an extremely friendly conversation before the latter leaves despite the fact he has absolutely murdered several million people while working for Apocalypse. Finally, Charles has approved the re-creation of the X-Men, led by Mystique, whose members are seen wearing neat versions of their iconic ‘90s outfits that we only get to see for a few seconds before credits roll.

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Is there a post-credits scene?

Yeah, but it doesn’t matter.

Fine by me. Anything else noteworthy about the film?

Jennifer Lawrence clearly could not have been less interested in playing Mystique for a third time, although she wouldn’t be put out of her X-Men acting misery until she died in Dark Phoenix. And then there are the electric cages that keep nagging at my brain.

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What about the electric cages?

For some reason, Apocalypse has decided that electricity is somehow a mutant power forcefield. The first electrified cage shows up in the mutant fight club, and somehow Nightcrawler can’t teleport through it. This feels like a stretch, but I was able to roll with it. Until...

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…until?

Until Stryker kidnaps Mystique, Beast, Quicksilver, and Moira, and then Jean, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler teleport into the helicopter. Jean tries to use her psychic powers to contact the others but can’t reach them because they’ve been put in the chopper’s electrified cage, which now suddenly has the power to block thoughts. Unfortunately, electricity only has this hitherto unknown ability when the plot demands it because after they land and the X-quartet get thrown in the base’s electrified cage, its prisoners have no problem hearing a psychic message from Apocalypse to the entire world as relayed by the captured Professor X. It’s just more lazy writing.

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So are we done here?

For now.

Wait. What do you mean?

I mean I’ll probably be doing more Retro Movie FAQs for a while since we’re not getting any new nerdy blockbusters for the foreseeable future.

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Dude, I am not looking forward to this.

How the hell do you think I feel? I’m the one who’s going to have to watch goddamned Justice League.

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Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it's all he's good at.

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DISCUSSION

How the hell do you think I feel? I’m the one who’s going to have to watch goddamned Justice League.

Hot take: Justice League isn’t that bad. Oh, it’s not good, it’s forgettable in many parts, and the CGI is terrible, but also it’s kind of fun. It’s the first film starring Henry Cavill as Superman where he actually seems like the Superman everyone knows and loves. And at less than two hours long, it doesn’t waste as much of your time as Apocalypse.