Movie Review: Gloomy 'X-Men: Apocalypse' Among Series' Weakest

Movie Review: Gloomy 'X-Men: Apocalypse' Among Series' Weakest

It’s mutant vs. mutant in X-Men: Apocalypse, which pits the burgeoning 1980s X-Men led by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) against former friends and currents foes when ancient mutant “God” Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is woken from his millennia-long slumber.

If it sounds familiar, that’s because Batman v Supermanand Captain America: Civil War did roughly the same thing in recent weeks by pitting their casts of superheroes against each other.

But all of the X-Men movies seem to take this route – particularly the last three, which have each dealt with the eternal good/bad mutant struggle between Professor X and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). And this one ups the ante, with no less than 15 name-brand superheroes & villains getting involved in the action, most of them in the big end-of-the-world climax.

After this year’s previous two superhero blockbusters, I appreciated that this one didn’t revolve around collateral damage caused by the superheroes. Still, I couldn’t help but think of millions of human lives that must be lost during the film’s (fittingly) apocalyptic climax, as Magneto uses his magnetic-field powers to manipulate the entire earth.

Up to that point, I was kinda-sorta on Erik Lehnsherr’s side. As if the whole Holocaust business – as detailed in First Class – wasn’t bad enough, this film gives him a whole 5-minute backstory as a Polish metalworker whose wife and young daughter are murdered when his cover is blown. Just when he thought he was out…

An enraged Magneto is easy pickings for the evil machinations of Apocalypse, worshipped as an Egyptian God thousands of years ago and awoken in 1985 Cairo when government agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) accidentally stumbles upon his tomb.

Apocalypse was betrayed by humanity long ago and now wants to wipe it out, though his apocalyptic vision would seem to destroy the entire world and every other species on it, too. But Angel (Ben Hardy), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Magneto join his ranks, anyway, after he “enhances” their mutant powers.  

Annnnnd in the other corner we have the good ‘ol Professor, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and Havok (Lucas Till) – none of whom have aged significantly in the 2+ decades since First Class – along with new recruits Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

Evan Peters’ Quicksilver stole the previous film, and he’s a highlight in this one, too, with a couple of wonderful slo-mo sequences set to 80s rock and some additional screentime to develop the character.

And that’s X-Men: Apocalypse in a nutshell: two warring factions of mutants facing off over the course of the 2.5-hour movie. There’s a real lack of story to justify that kind of length, and the finale, in particualr, is a rotely familiar end-of-the-world ordeal, only lacking that pillar of light shooting into the sky.

Instead of time spent on story, it’s spent on character. And director Bryan Singer, who also co-wrote the film, does some great work with new faces in familiar roles – the blossoming relationship between a young Cyclops and Jean Grey is a central point in the film, and Sheridan and Turner are well-cast.

This is Singer’s fourth X-Men feature as director, and it’s at least on a par with the other three, which have been remarkably consistent in quality.

All that’s missing here is a strong central presence to tie everything together. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine provided that in the previous film – and many of the others, too – but his role here is reduced to a gratuitous (if exciting) cameo.

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