If “location, location, location” is the mantra for real estate agents, then “timing, timing, timing” must be the one for movie distributors.
Had “X-Men: Apocalypse” come out before “Captain America: Civil War” and “Batman v. Superman,” it might have seemed just a little fresher and more emotionally involving. Instead, it can be written off as yet another summer superhero movie – admittedly, with fine special effects – where powerful characters misguidedly battle each other, until they realize they have to defeat a common enemy.
That enemy, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), emerges in the time of the pharaohs as the most powerful mutant of his time. He has the ability to transfer other mutants’ traits to himself before discarding their bodies, but he’s betrayed just as he’s on the brink of virtual omnipotence. A tomb cave-in buries him for 3,000 years, until modern Egyptians unearth him.
Apocalypse, as he’s now known for no reason, bands together with four mutants – “he always has four, throughout history,” someone helpfully explains – including Magneto (Michael Fassbender, as good as ever). Magneto has been living as a factory worker in Poland, but his heroic role in a workplace accident exposes him. Police who come to arrest him accidentally kill his wife and daughter, and he vows vengeance on all mankind.
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The movie then resorts to the usual plot points, all of them past their expiration dates. The world debates whether mutants are to be feared and destroyed. Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) attempts to draw his metal-moving friend back from the dark side. Characters who will play roles in later X-Men narratives emerge, from Storm (Alexandra Shipp) to Quicksilver (Evan Peters).
The story takes place, as fans will know, after the 2014 “Days of Future Past” but well before the 2000 “X-Men.” To see young characters plunge forward when we know their fates – assuming Marvel doesn’t take the story line into an alternate universe – lends a little extra emotion: Telepath Jean Grey plays a crucial role here, and we recall what awaits her in the 2003 “X2.” (Oddly, “Game of Thrones” actress Sophie Turner barely registers as Jean.)
If the people making these movies weren’t obsessed with pleasing every possible viewer, we’d be spared irrelevancies: Wolverine turns up in all six “X-Men” movies, and his appearance here couldn’t be more useless. When we have to spend time with Beast and Angel and Nightcrawler and Cyclops and Psylocke and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, still strong), the movie too often becomes a parade of cameos. Apocalypse has no personality, merely the malevolence of a megalomaniac.
For the first time in recent memory, a superhero adaptation concludes without a teaser scene after the final credits. Perhaps Bryan Singer, who has directed four of the six “X-Men” films, realized this series should end here or reinvent itself. If so, he’s right.
☆ ☆ 1/2
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac.
Director: Bryan Singer.
Length: 144 minutes.
Rating: PG-13 (sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images).
Raleigh: Brier Creek, Carmike, Grande, Mission Valley, North Hills, Six Forks. Apex: Beaver Creek. Cary: CineBowl, Crossroads. Chapel Hill: Lumina, Silverspot, Timberlyne. Durham: Southpoint, Wynnsong. Garner: White Oak. Morrisville: Park Place, Park West. Smithfield: Smithfield Cinemas