There is a prescient line in an otherwise humdrum script halfway through new franchise outing, ‘X-Men: Apocalypse,’ that goes something like, ‘the third one is always the worst.’ Unfortunately, when comparing this film to its’ two stellar predecessors, ‘First Class’ and ‘Days of Future Past,’ ‘Apocalypse’ falls far short. It’s truly a shame as those movies effectively rebooted an ailing franchise that had squandered the rich history and powerful characters of the X-Men universe, a sin that this film now perpetrates by cramming in a laundry list of mutants as it also tries to balance the existing well-established ones as portrayed by the fine lead actors/actresses.
Taking place in 1983, exactly 10 years after the fluid ending of ‘Future Past,’ this film checks in with Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) who, as promised to Hugh Jackman’s time displaced Logan / Wolverine, is heading up a thriving school at his Westchester estate, populated by a new generation of mutants. This allows for the reintroduction of teenage versions of stalwarts Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), none of whom make much of the impact the filmmakers intend. Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a. Magneto, has settled into a quiet family life of anonymity in Poland, and as played by the extremely talented Michael Fassbender, salvages the film by elevating and truly emoting through the trope-like material he is given, all despite being saddled with a basically side-lining role as a force of destruction in the third act. Jennifer Lawrence’s returning Mystique has the least to do here beyond being a symbol of mutant heroism for the younger generation, a role that contradicts the character from the comics (she is an infiltrator and anti-hero, the X-Men’s version of Catwoman) – it’s really no wonder that J-Law appears to be moving out of her contractual obligation – it shows, as she basically just hits her notes and markers here.
While all of the above re-introductions are going on, the movie also must introduce the big bad, the first mutant, ancient god-like being En Sabah Nur (self-proclaimed ‘Apocalypse’ in the comics, and a fan-favorite) played by the versatile Oscar Isaac. Obsessed with the mantra that ‘only the strongest survive,’ he gathers four horsemen to aid in his quest. This gives screenwriter Simon Kinberg and director Bryan Singer the excuse to introduce even MORE characters into the mix, Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Angel (Ben Hardy). It’s truly amazing to witness how much the same creators of the previous movie manage to botch these introductions – these characters and storylines, when linked to Apocalypse, are so rich with history and drama in the comic books. If they hewed even a bit closer to the source material, they could have wrung out the drama, pathos, and entertainment this stuff can arise to. This is what the filmmakers wanted to evoke, but instead they end up with an end result that is surprisingly, confoundingly both overstuffed and unfulfilling . . .
Directed By: Bryan Singer
Written By: Simon Kinberg
Running Time: 144 min.
* * (out of 4 stars) -OR- C