That’s the way I approach the X-Men movies. When a movie series spans a universe of stories—in addition to five X-Men flicks, this is the third “First Class” movie—caution is advised. The general rule of thumb is one of diminishing returns: the further away from the source, the weaker the story.
“Apocalypse” isn’t exactly the best of the X-Men movies, but it’s hardly the worst either. What it lacks in surprises, it makes up for in bombast.
“A gift can often be a curse,” we’re told in the opening narration. “Give them the greatest gift of all, power beyond imagination and they think they should rule the world.” Such is the case with En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) an immortal Egyptian pharaoh betrayed a millennium or two ago, left in a fitful slumber under the rubble of a collapsed pyramid.
Cut to the early 1980s. Series regulars Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) are going about life as usual… or as usual as they can while shape shifting and instantly transporting from place to place.
Their lives intersect again when En Sabah Nur, now nicknamed Apocalypse (no foreshadowing there) emerges from his sleep, eager to take his place as king of the world. The mutant god absorbs television news to learn about the modern world before assembling his disciples—his four horsemen—and unlocking the one last power he needs to control the planet. With the world’s fate resting in his hands Professor X (James McAvoy) brings a team of X-Men to do battle.
The first X-Men movies were allegories for all manner of twentieth century intolerance but gradually over time the civil rights elements of the story have become more lip service than social comment. “Apocalypse” distances itself even further from the core of what made the originals interesting, leaving behind a serviceable action movie that plays more like a Successories unleash-your-power platitude than a cry for universal liberties.
Instead we are given a villain who melodramatically says things like, “Come! Rescue your weakling!” and a CGI climax that feels lifted from “Batman v. Superman” or “Age of Ultron.” The dumbed down story of friendship and teamwork may not engage the brain but it does, however, have outlandish visuals to dazzle the eye. A show stopping Quicksilver (Evan Peters) scene has the faster-than-light mutant rescue a dozen people from a bombed out building, frozen in time by his supersonic speed. It’s cool and like the movie’s best images has the verve and invention the script lacks.
When the film’s biggest reveal is James McAvoy’s bald Professor X head you know the movie is light on new ideas but “X-Men: Apocalypse“ transcends the law of diminishing rewards by upping the action.