FILM REVIEW – X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. With James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne. Written by Simon Kinberg. Directed by Bryan Singer. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images. 144 minutes.
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE has a problem, but it’s not that it’s unwatchable. It’s got a strong cast, the effects are–for the most part–impressive, and the story moves along at a steady clip. The problem is that in spite of the addition of a new villain and some new mutant superheroes, this is a movie we’ve seen many times, and not simply among the flood of superhero films. It seems like the “X-Men” may have finally run out of things to say.
We’re in “early X-Men” mode, which is to say that Dr. Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) are still young men, and we’re still in the past rather than the present day. The villain is Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), an all-powerful Egyptian god who’s been buried under several tons of rocks for many centuries. Now alive and kicking, he gathers some mutants to serve him and plans on reducing humanity to slavery, at least those who remain alive after his reshaping the world.
Even though these Marvel characters do not inhabit the same cinematic universe as the Avengers (for legal reasons), they all have just-as-complicated backstories. Unless you’re already invested in this world so that the characters are familiar, you may not remember why Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is so moody, or why Magneto doesn’t know about his relationship to Quicksilver (Evan Peters), or why Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) doesn’t seem to have a mutant identity. These are all things that may be easy to explain to hardcore fans, but casual viewers shouldn’t need a cheat sheet to follow the action.
The film also fumbles those characters when we do get information about them. Magneto has been a complex character because he has reasons for hating non-mutant humanity. He’s a Jewish Holocaust survivor who saw his family murdered at Auschwitz. In prior films, that biographical detail gave the character unexpected depth. Here, it’s used for a cheap moment when Apocolypse takes him to the remains of the death camp to get him angry and then has him destroy it. Indeed, the notion of this Jewish character willingly submitting to an Egyptian god makes little sense when one recalls how that worked out under the rule of the biblical Pharoah.
As the battle between the two sides rage (complete with a cameo from another X-Man) we’re just marking time to the final showdown, where the CGI effects become tiresome and a bit obvious, and–yet again–Magneto has to decide which side he’s on. As popcorn movie/timewaster, “X-Men Apocalypse” is a sufficient diversion, but it’s becoming clear that this franchise is at the end of the line (which may or may not be the title of the next movie).•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.