Movie Review: “X-Men: Apocalypse”

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Olivia Munn
Bryan Singer

In 2000, director Bryan Singer launched the X-Men franchise (on a shoestring budget by today’s superhero movie standards), helping to pave the way for future comic book films. While the director’s first installment doesn’t completely hold up, especially in the visual effects department, it was a good example of how less can be more; the characters were more thrilling than the action. 16 years later, Singer’s third sequel “X-Men: Apocalypse” comes from the “more is more” school of thought, and though it’s his biggest X-Men film to date, it’s also his most disappointing.

The fifth sequel in the series takes place ten years after the events of “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (although none of the characters have aged a day). Long before any of that happened, mutants ruled the world. En Sabah Nur, who sees himself as a God, is on his last days. As he prepares to take over one of his devoted follower’s (Oscar Isaac) bodies, he’s betrayed by the humans. His four (mutant) horseman do everything they can to protect him from the attack, and as a result, his body is left safely guarded underneath a demolished pyramid.

In 1983, En Sabah Nur awakens and is horrified by what the humans have done with his world. The powerful mutant believes the planet must be cleansed, and he recruits four new horsemen – Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Angel (Ben Hardy) – to assist him in building a new world. Only Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his young mutant students, including Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), can prevent En Sabah Nur and the four horsemen from destroying the planet.

All in all, a fairly routine superhero movie plot. The problem with “X-Men: Apocalypse” isn’t its familiarity – that’s to be expected with most superhero movies these days – but rather that it simply goes through the motions. Five entries into this series, which both Matthew Vaughn and Singer helped reenergize after “X-Men: The Last Stand,” it’s beginning to feel tired. Although the stakes are larger this time around, the core conflicts do little to heighten the drama. Magneto is still struggling with the battle between good and evil within himself, as Charles has again and again pointed out. While their relationship was a highlight of “X-Men: First Class,” by now it seems as if there’s nowhere new to take the two characters. As for the supporting cast, including Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), none of their journeys are compelling enough to justify the 144-minute runtime.

Perhaps with a tighter pace, “X-Men: Apocalypse” could’ve succeeded as an action-driven piece of spectacle, but far too much of Simon Kinberg’s script consists of exposition and setup. It’s always admirable when a franchise movie isn’t afraid to take its time, but there’s so little momentum in Singer’s film. There’s rarely ever a palpable sense of danger because of the leisurely pace. Slowly, the superhero movie checks off boxes, hitting the beats we expect while also making time for tangents.

One of the most exciting sequences from “Days of Future Past” involved Quicksilver (Evan Peters) taking out armed guards in a slo-mo sequence. This time around, Singer attempts to top that set piece, but the execution is underwhelming. Narratively, it comes across as a pit stop – one long sequence, although well shot, that grinds the story to a halt.

Oddly, for a film of this length, too many characters are painted in broad strokes. Apocalypse, especially, is a disappointing threat – a villain that just wants to destroy the world and reclaim it as his own, which leads to a lot of CG-heavy action featuring characters with mostly simple motivations fighting each other. It takes about two hours to get to the big showdown, which, with these actors and Singer’s direction, should’ve been emotionally engaging and, at the very least, entertaining. Sadly, “X-Men: Apocalypse” is neither.