Around 40 minutes into a screening for 20th Century Fox’s X-Men: Apocalypse, the audience I sat among had been generally apathetic towards Bryan Singer’s latest film. Action scenes weren’t cheered, some pretty funny jokes were met with silence, and none of its characters thus far left any lasting impression. That’s the most succinct review I can give X-Men: Apocalypse, if I’m being honest.
But then, things slowed down. Way down. Quicksilver (Evan Peters) enters the frame, perfectly timed to Eurythmics’s ‘83 synthpop staple “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” He’s confused, and worried. Something is wrong (minor spoilers: Xavier’s School gets blown up), but the audience became ecstatic. This is it. This is going to be great. Homeboy was back, and he’s gonna steal the show again. And he does, thankfully, because the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to these amazing four minutes.
In 2014, the mutant speedster Quicksilver is introduced and quickly earns his moment in X-Men: Days of Future Past, in a glorious and extravagantly over-produced scene set to Jim Croce’s sentimentally resonant “Time In a Bottle.” The two-minute CGI version of a Buster Keaton gag catapulted Quicksilver into unexpected popularity. There wasn’t a blitzkrieg of Quicksilver merchandising, but the guy was a hit and there was palpable frustration when he disappeared from the movie.
But now in Apocalypse, Quicksilver is back in a more fulfilling role, his signature show-stopper expander longer — and daresay, even better sequence of elaborate CGI, where comedy and danger are inches apart.
Fun moments don’t make a good character. Fortunately, there’s actually rich history to explore in Quicksilver that could fill out a whole movie. This isn’t a spoiler since a) it’s comics knowledge and b) it’s in the trailers, but Quicksilver discovers Michael Fassbender’s handsomely stoic Magneto is his father. (He found out off-screen in between this movie and Days of Future Past, so there’s no need to rewatch that if you’re wondering how he found out.) But the whole matter is left unresolved in the movie, with clear promise it will be a much bigger thing in a later installment.
But as these movies begin to bloat with more mutants — there’s a new X-Men movie coming that’s straight up called New Mutants so get ready for that — a very personal, very intimate story threatens to be drowned in another slog of an X-Men movie, populated by even more weirder characters than Quicksilver, a guy who can listen to Pink Floyd the same way high college kids can without needing to blaze it.
Imagine that, a small-scale superhero movie. That was the secret to Captain America: Civil War: Though it had more superheroes and amazing action scenes than any merchandise-driven movie could dream of, it was still a story about Captain America and his friend(s). It was intimate, but played out on a significantly bigger scale. Quicksilver and Magneto, a family drama begging to be explored, could maybe have that spark that’s lacking in this incoherent franchise.
And if nothing else, at least the soundtrack would be killer.