“X-Men: Apocalypse” is not a bad movie. While it is definitely weaker than its predecessor, “Days of Future Past” there are still a number of compelling scenes, arcs and sequences. However, the greatest problem is not that something was missing from the film, but that there was too much in it.
So much have could have gone, a little bit could have been added, and it could have been a really engaging film. So below, how “X-Men: Apocalypse” should have been.
- Focus on the Main Arc
What is the main arc of the narrative? Is it Magneto overcoming loss and realizing Xavier’s way of peace may be right? Is it Mystique’s acceptance of her importance to Charles’ students? Is it Xavier learning the importance of his team? Is it Apocalypse’s story of trying to take over the world?
You can make a diverse cast of characters and incorporate many narratives into your film, but they all need to be tied together towards some specific goal. In addition to the stories above, there are also arcs for Storm, Archangel, Cyclops, Jean, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Stryker and Moira MacTaggert. There is simply too much going on and the multiple storylines muddle the emotional impact of the film.
The film should focus squarely on the villain Apocalypse and stopping him. All plot lines should tie into that goal in some way. An example is evident in the previous X-Men film, “Days of Future Past.” Though you have sentinels and Weapon X and time travel and assassination and Mystique and addiction and Magneto and Quicksilver, it all boils down to one spine: stop Mystique from killing a man. Everything else just adds to the story.
So in focusing on Apocalypse, what does he represent to the X-Men? How can his story contribute to the X-Men universe and create an interesting and moving narrative?
Looking at the character, his goals contrast sharply with Xavier’s. Where Xavier preaches peace, Apocalypse preaches violence. Where Xavier welcomes discourse, Apocalypse cripples dissent. There is a wide breadth of ideological difference between them, one that could be more fully explored throughout the course of the story. The followers of both characters could reflect some aspect of that dichotomy. They both seek out lost souls, trapped in a world that is persecuting mutants and with nuclear missiles pointed everywhere.
The first two X-Men films explored racism and hate and “Days of Future Past” was a meditation on violence. In that vein, “Apocalypse” could be a tale about duty and revolution. How do we remake the world? What is the ideal society? What role do we have in the world to improve it? Both Xavier and Apocalypse would draw upon the different backgrounds of their pupils to aspire them towards their goals: one, to destroy the world, the other, to save it.
Perhaps Cyclops is unsure about risking his life to save others and tries to run away before the big fight. Jean is frightened of her powers and worries about hurting others. On the other side, maybe Storm is reluctant to hurt others at the orders of Apocalypse and Psylocke is too blood thirsty for her own good, Apocalypse needing to channel her anger towards a common purpose.
This is hinted at in the film, but because there is so much going on it does not have much impact and is never given a real chance to develop. We barely have any time with a character before we are sent halfway around the world for another plotline.
The film should be simple: Two teachers, preaching different dogmas, and their students trying to figure their paths in the world.
Wolverine does not need to be in the film, nor does Stryker. Mystique has a very limited role that either needs to be beefed up or eliminated. Magneto has a large role, but it could be shortened and still maintain its effectiveness. There is too much time given to him and not enough to establish new characters like Psyclocke and Archangel.
Simply put, the plot needs to be simpler.
2. Character Growth
A film has to mean something. The journey you take over its telling must educate the main characters in some way: through love, through trial, through adventure, through trauma. They should emerge transformed, for better or worse.
There is no such evolution over the course of “Apocalypse.” Xavier, Magneto, Mystique, Beast are all pretty much the same at the film’s conclusion. Cyclops and some of the younger X-Men, sure, they have grown up, but they are hardly the protagonists (though perhaps they should have been).
“Apocalypse” feels less important (especially in regards to “Days of Future Past”) because of this lack of transformation. If a clearly defined protagonist, such as Mystique, were the heart of the film, we could follow emotionally through the story.
What about something like this: After saving the president in “Days of Future Past”, Raven has been wandering the world. Her exploits have garnered her fame as mutants have come out of the shadows. The world is just starting to learn about mutants and the movement is seeking voices of guidance. They look up to her, but she doesn’t view herself as a hero. She is afraid of standing up to the prejudice of the world, simply saving mutants when she can. She is haunted by memories of the attacks from mankind over the past few years, attacks which forced her to abandon her young son (building on a theme of parenthood with Magneto’s family dying, Xavier looking over his students/adopted children and Apocalypse gathering his followers). After years of wandering, she hears whispers of a powerful deity in the Middle East, a mutant rising up, someone who could guide her. She goes to investigate and discover En Sabah Nur, a powerful being who has been recruiting horsemen for the apocalypse. Horrified, Mystique runs to report to Xavier.
From there, Xavier and Mystique could team up to defeat this threat. He could help her find Nightcrawler, her son, through Cerebro, and she learns the value of protecting those you love. When Xavier is taken by the titular villain, she is forced to lead the X-Men even though it is her greatest fear. She must fully embrace Xavier’s view of active peace and fight against the prejudice that has haunted her life and become the leader she has resisted, even if it means sacrificing herself.
This is just one example, but you must have your protagonist grow and change over the course of the story. I’m not even sure who the protagonist of “Apocalypse” is: Xavier? Magneto? Mystique? Apocalypse himself? It is muddled. The point is, it could be any of them as long as the story focuses on them and the change they undergo.
This is the ninth X-Men film so another natural problem that has emerged is that of a lack of originality. We have seen the world-is-ending plot again and again. We have had Xavier and Magneto disagreeing again and again. We have had young mutants not able to control their powers again and again.
There simply comes a point where you need to mess with the formula and try something new when you are this far into a series. The tone and the stakes have gotten stale. One of the reasons “Deadpool” performed so well is not only because of its main character, but because it did things superhero films hadn’t done yet: more violence, more crassness, a revenge plot, non-linear storytelling. It was different. “Apocalypse” is just more of the same.
Maybe you have a dystopia theme (such as the Age of Apocalypse storyline) where Apocalypse has already conquered the world and each of his four horsemen has a corner of the globe to his or herself. Elements of the X-Men rise up in different corners of the world (Nightcrawler in Germany, Storm in Egypt, Cyclops in America, Colossus in Russia), join together, and stop the madman.
Or perhaps you focus on the Archangel storyline where Apocalypse takes in a broken winged man, gives him new wings and then uses him as his horseman of death until Archangel realizes what’s become of him and works to stop Apocalypse. Or perhaps Cable’s storyline, where he fights Apocalypse a thousand years in the future.
There are any number of possibilities for where a story could go, but it’s unfortunate that the filmmakers decided to stick with the same plot as their previous films.
“X-Men: Apocalypse” could have been so much more. It could have been a heartfelt, concluding chapter to the formation of the modern X-Men, juggling issues of childhood, courage and sacrifice. Instead, you have a jumble of too many storylines, a lack of a cohesive vision and the same plot we’ve seen again.
There are many ways an Apocalypse story could have been handled, but just for fun, here’s mine below:
The first mutant, the all-powerful En Sabah Nur, is betrayed and buried in the earth by his Egyptian slaves after decades of sustained rule. The centuries pass to the 1980s, where he is awakened by Angel, a mutant who had his wings broken by an anti-mutant mob, a common occurrence in the years since mutants became widely known. Hearing of the tales of the first mutant with the ability to heal him, Angel helps the followers of En Sabah Nur find his body and perform the ceremony to bring him back to life.
Meanwhile, after saving the president’s life ten years earlier, Mystique remains in hiding. No one has been able to find her and to the people of the world today, human and mutant alike, she has become a legend, a modern Butch Cassidy or John Dillinger, an outlaw with a heart of gold who the police can’t catch. To humans, she is someone to fear, someone who at any moment could impersonate the president and order a missile strike, a person the federal government has labeled a terrorist and fabricates lies and stories about. To mutants, she is a hero, someone to look up to, someone who saved the president for the good of all.
She has teamed up with Psylocke, also an outcast, to find and rescue mutants in harm’s way. Together, they rescue Cyclops from a mob of his classmates after his powers first start to show themselves. They drop him off at Xavier’s Mansion. Mystique can’t bring herself to go back inside, and she and Psylocke dash away.
They talk about their hunt for Mystique’s son, and we flash back to Mystique in Austria, hunted by a mob after being discovered. She is forced to abandon him in order to save them both.
They meet up with one of their informants who tells them of whispers of a powerful mutant in the east, someone who is rumored to be the savior of mutantkind. Psylocke thinks it’s hogwash, but Mystique is determined to figure it out for herself. They depart for Egypt.
Archangel flies over the skies of Egypt, looking below him. He scouts for recruits and comes upon Storm, a young thief, struggling to get by. He appeals to her with a promise that he can make her a goddess, something beyond her wildest dreams.
Xavier takes Cyclops in and shows him the mansion, introducing him to the teachers and students. He meets Jubilee and Quicksilver and Jean, who he initially dislikes because she peers into his head without asking. Xavier explains what he is trying to accomplish, that this is a school, a place of peace and a haven from the cruelty of the world. Cyclops questions why Xavier can’t do more to help mutants out there, but Xavier is afraid that the X-Men may do more harm than good. They aren’t ready for the world yet, he states. The world is too hostile.
In Egypt, Mystique and Psylocke track down the temple of En Sabah Nur. Still gathering his strength, he appeals to their desire to make a better world. He can sense the state of the world, the instability, the hate, the fear. He reveals his plan for creating a better planet, one devoted to the strong, one that recognizes mutants as the heirs of the world. There is no god, he states, other than he. He is their salvation.
Mystique is terrified of his vision of destruction, but Psylocke, after years on the road, trying to find justice in a world of hate, agrees to be one of his horsemen. Mystique escapes from the clutches of Archangel and Storm and retreats to Charles.
En Sabah Nur asks Psylocke for her help in recruiting one more follower, the most powerful mutant she knows.
Magneto, after being foiled by Xavier and Mystique ten years ago, has floundered, the world caving in on him. Much like the film, he has tried to let go of the pain in his heart and start a family, but the hatred of mankind results in him losing everything. Left with nowhere to turn, Psylocke propositions him to join En Sabah Nur’s cause. Together, they vow to reshape the world for the better.
Mystique alerts Xavier to the threat looming in Egypt, and Xavier tries to use Cerebro to find him, but he can’t. Apocalypse hides from Cerebro using his power, but is tipped off to the threat of Xavier.
Xavier and Mystique fight about her responsibility, their connection, her lost dedication to his cause. The students look up to her, but she refuses to accept her hero mantle. Beast tries to talk to her, still carrying feelings for her after all these years.
Xavier tells her that he found her son not that long ago and brought him to the school. Mystique goes to meet him, but Nightcrawler is resentful of being abandoned and does not want to speak to her.
Apocalypse, sensing the power of Xavier, attacks the mansion. Magneto, Storm, Psylocke and Archangel carry out a siege, abducting students. Quicksilver works to save as many as he can, including Mystique, Cyclops, Jean and Nightcrawler, but he is overpowered by Apocalypse himself, who fully basks in his renewed powers and demolishes the building. He buries Xavier under the rubble of his home, the world believing that he is dead. He then declares to the world that he is their Apocalypse.
With a whole new set of pupils at his disposal, En Sabah Nur preaches his doctrine of strength and that he will guide them to promise and salvation. Using his powers, he unleashes the nuclear weapons of the world on its citizens, laying waste to all the power centers of the globe. The world is now his.
As the world descends into chaos, Mystique salvages what is left of Xavier’s students. With no one else to turn to, she is forced into being the new X-Men’s unofficial leader. She takes Cyclops, Jean, Jubilee and Nightcrawler under her wing as they try to evade Apocalypse’s forces, out searching for them in this new world order.
What is left of humanity and mutantkind has either fallen into line with Apocalypse or is hunted down. Xavier’s students are trained to be assassins loyal to him or put into gladiatorial arenas where they must fight for other’s amusement until they reconsider. Beast is one of these mutants, needing to keep his pupils strong despite the torment.
The world is divided under control of the four horsemen, each gaining a different region. At long last, Magneto seeks to establish his view of mutant leadership in his own domain, controlling North America. Storm rules over Africa as a goddess. Psylocke unleashes all her hate and aggression in her domain of Europe and Archangel builds a new empire in Asia. Apocalypse rules over all, accumulating power.
With no real hope, Mystique concocts a plan. During her hunt for mutants, she had heard of one mutant with the ability to warp space and time. She knows where he is, and he may be the only hope to stop Apocalypse.
On their journey to find him, conflicts arise between her and Nightcrawler, between Jean and Scott. They must overcome them in order for the mission to succeed, becoming friends. As they continue on, Mystique’s fame as the person who saved the president helps her grow allies and strikes up rebellions across the world.
To counter the rebellion, Apocalypse engages in a plan to alter the earth’s core, destroying all life and rebuilding the planet exactly in his image.
Nigthcrawler has a conversation with his mother along the way about God and how he found Him when he was alone. They talk about faith and the power of good over evil. Mystique explains that she never believed in a higher power, but Nightcrawler points to what they have been able to accomplish and that maybe this is God’s work.
Beast is able to escape the hellish pits and returns to the mansion hoping to find some wreckage that could prove useful to the fight. He discovers Xavier, buried underneath the rubble, still alive. He nurses him back to health.
Within Apocalypse’s inner circle, bickering ensues. Magneto does not appreciate Archangel wandering into his territory. Storm is trying to feed her people and requires more assistance. Apocalypse cares about none of it, dismissing them.
Storm, considering the suffering of her people, feeling the burden of leadership for the first time in her life, breaks from Apocalypse’s ranks and forces his troops out of her kingdom. She contacts Mystique and pledges to help.
Mystique contacts Magneto, getting a meeting with him behind Apocalypse’s back. She talks to him about the futility of his dream in conjunction with Apocalypse’s rule. Magneto does not want to give up on his last chance to create a mutant society, brushing her off, but doubt infects his mind.
Mystique finally finds the mutant with the ability to morph time and space, a young girl, scared of her own shadow, unaware of her power. But at that moment, Apocalypse finally catches up with them and brings his remaining three horsemen to confront the X-Men. A battle ensues between Psylocke and Mystique, Cyclops and Jean and Archangel and Nightcrawler and Magneto. Storm joins in the fight with the X-Men, squaring off against Magneto.
Mystique pleads with Psylocke once more to think about what she is doing, but Psylocke is dead set on changing the world. Mystique is able to knock her out. Cyclops and Jean beat Archangel, but Magneto prevails against Storm and Nightcrawler. He captures the young mutant girl, but at that moment, Beast emerges with a renewed Professor X. He shows Magneto the suffering that has endured during his watch and reminds him of how he suffered similarly in his past and that it needn’t be this way to save mankind. Magneto turns against Apocalypse.
Apocalypse then reveals his plan to destroy all life on earth and create a new world order, but all of the X-Men fight against him, stopping him in his tracks, draining him of his power and rendering him a weak, old creature.
Xavier speaks with the young girl, telling her what she must do, referencing how the world is meant for the betterment of all, that we all must work to make life better. We all have a part to play in the structure of the world, and he believes that hers is to bring balance back to what once was. She returns the world to a normal state and Storm and Archangel join the X-Men. Magneto agrees to help Xavier with his students, and Mystique takes her rightful place in the X-Men’s lives.