Recently on Twitter, writer Russ Fischer pitched a potential listicle out into the ether: “Scenes in X-Men: Apocalypse Where Characters Stand Around Like They’re Waiting to Hear ‘Action,’ Ranked,” he wrote. Given how often these mutants just linger around like somebody forgot to block their scene, and how frequently you can catch the actors’ real-life boredom, irritation, or embarrassment flickering across their faces, you’d have a lot to work with. Instead of ranking every indifferent scene, though, we decided to focus in on the X-Men themselves: As several of their three-film contracts came to a conclusion, which of these actors looked the most disinterested in what they’re doing?
First, we’ll start with the least bored performer … and, boy, does this actor deserve a medal (or at least a bigger piece of the back-end profits). As Charles Xavier, James McAvoy plays one of the pillars of the X-Men franchise, and it would be awfully easy for him to phone it in: This is a movie that asks him to tell Michael Fassbender, for the umpteenth time, “I know there’s good in you, Eric”; forces him to spend the last half of X-Men: Apocalypse lying awkwardly on a rock; and, most cruel of all, costumes him in mauve. But McAvoy brings a lightness of touch to and a crucial investment in his character; in so many scenes where the other X-Men speak in grim monotone, he looks so cheerful that he might break into giggles. Of all the X-actors with hangdog, “feel sorry for me” faces, I felt sorriest for the people who didn’t get to have McAvoy as a scene partner.
Second, while you might find Apocalypse boring as a supervillain, and it is impossible to see Oscar Isaac’s actual expressions on account of the prosthetics that turn him into a grimacing, blue Paul Lynde, you can’t deny that he’s at least going for it. If you told any other actor that he had to put his hand on a TV set, pretend to soak up knowledge, and murmur “Learning,” that actor would have said the line in a “please, just call cut” deadpan. Isaac, on the other hand, stretches the word out like sinister taffy, and his “Leaaaaarning” is both the movie’s worst and best moment, which is some really impressive toggling.
From there, let’s dive into this cast’s collection of young mutants, all of whom were surely psyched to win these roles, yet rarely muster actual enthusiasm onscreen. The best of them are Evan Peters, whose Quicksilver is front and center in the movie’s best sequence but who also throws in enough loopy line-readings to keep you on your toes, and Lana Condor as Jubilee, who rocks a deeply radical 1980s ensemble (a commenter yesterday basically described it as “Claudia Kishi chic”), seems sprightly and fun, and is sidelined immediately and never heard from again. This group of mopey mutants really could have used her, because every name that follows looked adrift more often than not.
Kodi Smit-McPhee is fine as Nightcrawler, and so is Alexandra Shipp as Storm, but neither have much to do except follow their co-stars around like a non-playing character. X-Men: First Class returnee Lucas Till just looks surprised they brought back his Havoc, and the audience might concur. Tye Sheridan is one of our most promising young actors, but as Cyclops the only note I wrote down while watching him was “Lips.” And while Sophie Turner is terrific as Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, as X-Men character Jean Grey, she mostly seems weighed down by an American accent that channels Mira Sorvino in Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion. In every scene, she squints and looks sort of confused, like she didn’t hear the other actor’s line correctly. I can’t wait for the outtake megamix where Jean just keeps pausing and asking, “What?”
Now we’re getting to the truly bored. Apocalypse’s two henchman Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) have virtually no lines after the supervillain recruits them, and they just stand around in all of their scenes like they’re thinking, “Will Bryan Singer ever come out of his trailer and tell us what to do?” Munn is capable as an actor and as a fighter — the Instagram video she posted during her X-Men sword-wielding practice is more exciting than anything she actually does in the movie — but the movie rarely asks anything more of her than to stand on a masking-tape mark. It’s an incredible feat that she looks bored even when Psylocke wears a latex swimsuit to Auschwitz, a scene that I’m pretty sure violates the Geneva Conventions.
Rare is the movie that can defeat Rose Byrne, but as the oddly 50-something Moira MacTaggert in Apocalypse, she’s handed hoary exposition and eventually stuffed into an ill-fitting leather jumpsuit, and you can watch her spirit deflate in real time. I’ve seen Byrne give her all even to bad films like Annie and This Is Where I Leave You, but congratulations, Apocalypse, you finally broke her. Nicholas Hoult is in the movie as Beast, but his primary role is to fill out crowd scenes. In the first half of the film he looks so much like he’d rather be elsewhere that I’m fairly sure they gave his crucial role as “Professor X’s young twink lackey” to Lucas Till.
Now let’s discuss Michael Fassbender for a moment before we move on to our most bored performer. The two-time Oscar nominee is almost entirely isolated from the rest of his major co-stars in this movie, as though he gave producers a two-week window of his time and told them to make it work. Admittedly, in the scenes with Magneto’s secret family (and especially in the moment where he loses his wife and daughter), Fassbender gives a full-fledged performance. But when Apocalypse transports him to Auschwitz and orders him to go to town, I sensed Fassbender’s reluctance more than the character’s, and late in the movie, he has nothing more to do than to wanly watch the final fight from within his metal force-bubble. Once upon a time, he was this franchise’s forbidding antagonist, but by the end of Apocalypse, Fassbender’s Magneto just looks like he wants to go home.
Still, let’s get real: Nobody in this movie was more bored than Jennifer Lawrence. Don’t act surprised. You knew as soon as you saw this headline that Hollywood’s most valuable star would be called out for sleepwalking through X-Men: Apocalypse. At least they crafted an arc for Mystique that seemingly mirrors J. Law’s own feelings about the franchise she signed onto months before her first Oscar nomination: Both she and Mystique are reluctant X-Men, and it takes a whole lot of convincing (and, one would imagine, a thorough reminder of one’s contractual obligations) to earn their halfhearted commitment to the job at hand. I know many X-Men fans still grumble about Mystique’s promotion to a major player in the movies, but at least they can take some consolation in the fact that she barely does anything, spends major action sequences unaccounted for or just standing there, and is unlikely to return to these movies in her current form unless David O. Russell suddenly decides to direct a Mystique standalone. Jennifer Lawrence isn’t standing around like she’s waiting to hear “Action.” Jennifer Lawrence is standing around like she’s waiting to hear “Cut, and that’s a franchise wrap on J. Law.”