X-Men: Apocalypse is now available to stream on Disney+. It's the second installment of the X-Men movies franchise to land on the service as part of Disney's big summer streaming plans, with more on the way. X-Men: Apocalypse isn't one of the better-loved X-Men movies. It might not be the worst of the franchise, as the series reached deep lows in its time, but it is arguably the most disappointing. It opened in 2016 when 20th Century Fox seemed to be righting the ship and plotting a bright future of its mutant-centric movie franchise. But with big plans on the horizon, X-Men: Apocalypse fumbled, and the franchise never recovered. In a somewhat poetic twist, Apocalypse failed, at least in part, because it tried too hard to imitate the success of the films of Marvel Studios, which now controls the X-Men film rights following Disney's Acquisition of 20th Century Fox.
There was a time before all of this when the X-Men franchise found itself in a dark place. It had put out too critically-blasted movies in a row, X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009. The films made money, with The Last Stand being the highest-earner of the original X-Men film trilogy, but worse than disappointing critics, the movie disappointed fans, who felt the series that established the modern superhero film genre had lost its way.
Fox decided to give the X-Men movies another try with a prequel film, X-Men: First Class. Released in 2011, critics and fans alike enjoyed the film, but it didn't have the star power or box office success of its predecessors. Fox figured out the perfect way to elevate its newfound momentum by greenlighting X-Men: Days of Future Past. The film brought back original X-Men director Bryan Singer and the biggest stars from original X-Men trilogy, including Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Ian McKellen. Those stars appeared alongside their prequel counterparts to adapt one of the most iconic X-Men comic book stories of all time.
It was a big success when it opened in 2014, surpassing The Last Stand to become the new high-earner for the franchise and garnering positive reactions from critics and fans. Not only that, but it also opened a path forward for the X-Men movies. Like its comic book source material, Days of Future Past dealt with time travel, beating the Marvel Cinematic Universe to that particular punch five years before Avengers: Endgame. The film opened up an entirely new timeline for the franchise to play in, offering the opportunity to reintroduce fan-favorite characters like Cyclops and Storm without the baggage left over from the original X-Men trilogy.
But Fox followed Days of Future Past with X-Men: Apocalypse. Where Days of Future Past leveraged something the X-Men franchise had that the MCU did not, a legacy cast with almost 15 years of fan recognition, Apocalypse took the fresh start the previous film provided and attempted to remake the series in Marvel Studios' image.
When X-Men debuted in 2000, it left the yellow spandex at home and instead took a more grounded, sci-fi-inspired approach. In Apocalypse, fans finally get to see the cinematic X-Men in costumes inspired by the comics, but its as if they wished on a monkey's paw. Returning director Singer and writer Simon Kinberg felt the need to explain this new aesthetic within the film's story. It turned the menacing villain Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) into a cosmically-powered makeover artist as he carefully crafts MCU-style costumes for his Four Horsemen. The movie even offers an origin story for Professor X's comics accurate baldness. It goes through the motions of giving fans what it thinks they want, but it never feels natural. Instead, the film itself feels like its in a costume, like an older brother trying on its kid brother's clothing, as it pretends to be something it isn't.
But it isn't only the costumes that the film clumsily tries to borrow from the MCU. The X-Men movies hadn't gone the route of world-ending disasters, instead choosing to focus on personal and political threats: Magneto's attempt to convert humans into mutants, William Stryker's covert government project, etc. These were threats with potentially catastrophic implications, but more or less human villains represented them. Apocalypse is a demigod-like being, something more akin to Marvel movie villains like Ronan, Loki, or Thanos. By the film's climax, there's an all too familiar potential for world annihilation as the heroes battle Apocalypse and his Horsemen in Cairo, which might as well be the streets of New York City, and it does it without any of The Avengers' charm and humor. Apocalypse trades the intimacy of the best films in the X-Men series for a poorly-executed attempt at mimicking the bombast of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It even imitates the worth excesses of the MCU by forcing a scene involving Wolverine that has next to nothing to do with Apocalypse's plot, only serving to set up future films.
We can only speculate, but it seems like the folks behind the X-Men movies may have gotten tired of hearing fans chanting "give the X-Men back to Marvel" online for years and attempted to give them that without giving up the franchise. They failed on all fronts, betraying what worked about the X-Men movies up until then while failing to pull off what fans love about Marvel movies with any measure of competency. Apocalypse was the fatal blow to the X-Men film franchise, making it all the more ironic that the sequel, Kinberg's Dark Phoenix, saw the X-Men being stolen away by a government agency with the MCU acronym.1comments
But Marvel Studios didn't steal the franchise away in the night. There was a moment when the X-Men movies could have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the MCU. Instead, by trying to be the MCU, the X-Men movies failed and became the Marvel precursor that couldn't find an identity for itself in the post-Avengers era.
X-Men: Apocalypse is now streaming on Disney+.