When Bryan Singer directed The Usual Suspects (1995) he was rightly heralded as one to watch - the latter was a very clever, multilayered (from a ridiculously brilliant Chris McQuarrie script) crime thriller that came during the time when Tarantino fever was at its most fervent, and nearly every film with gangsters and smart dialogue was "Tarantino-esque." Of course, it was a different entity to what Tarantino was doing but it was swept along in the same hysteria. After his next film failed to live up to the hyped anticipation, Singer then tackled superheroes - at a time when studios might have considered the genre to be risky - with X-Men (2000). Essentially an ensemble superhero origins movie; whilst not without flaws, it was really great to see all those characters brought to life. Then Singer hit the jackpot with the second instalment X-2 (2003) - taking everything that was good about the first film, and improving upon them tenfold. The sequel had everything: strong plot, great performances from McKellen and Stewart, excellent set pieces, and Hugh Jackman coming into his own as Wolverine. However, it feels like Singer peaked too soon - both with X-Men movies and his filmography in general - and he has not made a film since that has quite hit the heights of The Usual Suspects and X-Men 2. Whilst Superman Returns (2006) is not a bad film per se, Singer's ode to Richard Donner's 1979 classic could (and should) have been so much better considering its hefty production budget.
After the X-chise™© was revitalised with Matthew Vaughan's excellent pre-boot (is Lucasisking claiming dibs on this? Oh well...) X-Men: First Class (2011), Singer returned to the X-universe with 2014's Days of Future Past. Although the latter was extremely well received from critics and fans alike, I have watched the film twice (in both its theatrical and, not particularly necessary, "Rogue cut" incarnations) and feel like there is something missing that is preventing me from liking it on a similar level to X-Men 2. It has all the ingredients including a strong plot line and extremely formidable adversaries in the form of the deadly Sentinels. Part of the problem is that, although a decent story is paramount, I am also partial to visual effects set pieces, and I just found it slightly lacking in that department (the opening "future" and Quicksilver sequences aside). Another issue is that I had difficultly connecting with the seventies set part of the narrative, and found myself wanting a completely "future" set X-Men movie as those scenes are fantastic (everything that the future sequences in Terminator Genysis were not, despite bearing close similarities especially at the beginning). My main gripe is that I just don't buy James McAvoy as the young Xavier, and it's exacerbated more with Patrick Stewart appearing as the older, wiser version in the same movie. McAvoy's Xavier just comes across like a spoilt brat, constantly pining for Raven/Mystique like a whiny.....you can insert your own expletive of choice.
Onto X-Men: Apocalypse, and the issues that I had with Days of Future Past are also present with Apocalypse, except that the plot-line is perhaps on a less ambitious scale, and has reverted to a battle between 'good' and 'bad' mutants similar to that of the original X-Men movie. I've not read the comics so don't have any particular beef with what they did with the antagonist Apocalypse except that his power(s) is similar to that of the previous entry's Sentinels, and lets just say his endgame has been used once or twice in films before (and not dissimilar to last year's Avengers: Age of Ultron).
There is much to like about X-Men: Apocalypse. The back story of the antagonist is an interesting one, and Oscar Isaac gives a relatively restrained performance when i was expecting something like Mumm-Ra from Thundercats. Sophie Turner is actually rather good as a young Jean Grey, struggling to deal with the enormity of her power. I also much prefer the eighties to the seventies setting of Future Past - there's just something cool about it as the eighties is my favourite era for movies. Magneto's initial subplot is also engaging and heartfelt, with Michael Fassbender actually getting to be just "Erik Lehnsherr" rather than Magneto in those scenes. In an extended role, Evan Peters yet again excels as The Flash...I mean...Quicksilver. As with Days of Future Past, the major set piece with his character taking centre stage is not to be missed, and the standout sequence of the film. There's also another superb sequence featuring a nice cameo from a beloved character, but for entirely different reasons (and hardcore comic book fans will possibly dig it even more).
On the flipside, Cyclops/Scott Summers is yet again short changed - this time it's young Hollywood up and comer Tye Sheridan's turn to fail to make much of a mark with the character (in a similar way, but not as weakly written, to James Marsden's portrayal). As good as Fassbender is early on in the film, Erik's later "U-turn" to join Apocalypse is just a bit too simplistic for my liking (I can understand his reasoning for it, but it still feels a bit too easy). Similarly, the other "horsemen" are essentially just mutants for hire, and succumb far too quickly to the promise of greater power (did they not learn from Uncle Ben what comes with great power?). Yet again, McAvoy veers towards irritating - there is an odd scene when he acts like a giddy schoolboy around Rose Byrne's Moira McTaggert - rather than inspirational. I liked McAvoy in the movie Wanted, but he's just not right for Charles Xavier, and it's becoming increasingly apparent across the three films in which he has essayed the role.
I enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse on a superficial level, but ultimately its difficult to escape the feeling the third instalment in the pre-boot (sorry Lucasisking) trilogy is not much more than generic X-Men by numbers, held together by two outstanding set piece sequences. Ironically, there's a scene in Apocalypse where, having been to the cinema to see Return of The Jedi, the young mutants joke that the third instalment is usually the worst. Well, you could say that Apocalypse is Return of the Jedi to Days of Future Past's Empire Strikes Back, except neither are anywhere near at the level as the Star Wars movies analogised.