Incrementally, Bryan Singer’s X-Men films have moved away from the easily digestible (and tone deaf) racial allegory towards something more abstract. X-Men: Apocalypse, a glacial epic designed to further shred the notion of continuity, is premised not just on awkward pubescence (Nightcrawler’s teleportation, Jean Grey’s house-shaking psychic nightmares, Cyclops’ uncontrollable lasers ejaculating from his eyes) but on the ability of youth to shatter the planet, literally and figuratively. We’ve gone from special effects as backdrop for adequate fight scenes or a way to drive plot to a core element tying spectacle and theme together. Crisscrossing the globe, as the scattered X-Men contend with the return of ancient mutant and would-be conqueror En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), we’re treated to vistas awash in energy beams, cityscapes rending into futurist pyramids, Earth’s entire nuclear stockpile ejected into space (at once), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) slinking around underground mutant fight clubs full of 80s reference points, and a dialed-to-11 repeat of Quicksilver’s big moment from Days of Future Past.
This time around, his near-time-stopping super-speed is pitted against a massive explosion. Needle-dropping to the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” Singer plays it like every nerdy boy’s power fantasy: Quicksilver (Evan Peters) staging elaborate rescues (even stopping to save a dog and some goldfish), dancing around, having a couple laughs at the squares, scarfing down some pizza, the movie literally pausing to awe at how much this admitted loser can accomplish when he applies himself (the extravagance also mocks how bland and ineffectual the version Marvel concocted for Avengers: Age of Ulton is). Elsewhere, sometimes-friend, sometimes-enemy Magneto (Michael Fassbender) contends with more personal tragedy just as he’s recruited by Sabah Nur to wreck the world. Facing down his pain at Auschwitz, and encouraged to tap into the full potential of his powers, Magneto twists and rips the horrifying relic into arcs of metallic dust. Soon, he’s turning everything into swirling wreckage, a Pollockian expression of all the rage and disgust brewing under his calm demeanor.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, the plot of Apocalypse broadly resembles portions of the original X-Men 3 pitch from Singer and writers Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty. That proposed film, which also would have been the Dark Phoenix Saga, was wrapped in the first two film’s obsessions with evolution, and would have culminated with Jean becoming the X-films’ equivalent of a Star Child. Now, with Simon Kinberg in tow, the trio have concocted a scenario where Louise Simonson and Jackson Guice’s blue-skinned, Darwinian monster forces the mutants to abandon all pretense of control, unleashing world-breaking carnage colored like a pop concert light show. Blockbuster filmmaking as advocacy for transhumanism, in all its horror and splendor.