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Apocalypse Not

20th Century Fox
 144 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed byBryan Singer 
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender
X-Men: Apocalypse

Unlike other superhero franchises that simply start over from scratch when they want to recast and reboot the series, the producers of X-Men have tried to maintain storyline continuity and integrity even as the baton was passed from Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart to Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. The solution was simply to set the stories with the newer (and considerably younger) actors in the past, representing the earlier versions of the present day group of mutants. That creative decision resulted in two largely entertaining movies, X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past (a time traveling tale in which the older X-Men also appear). Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and, in their third appearance, aptly named X-Men: Apocalypse, the young X-Men seem to be getting very old.


X-Men: Apocalypse is set in 1983, but its origin goes back several thousand years earlier, when the world’s first mutant, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), is entombed alive by some traitorous followers shortly before he can gain virtually unlimited superpowers. An archaeological dig releases Nur, now calling himself Apocalypse, and he sets about recruiting disciples who can help him complete the ritual. And, since he’s seen the bad shape the world is in, he plans to cleanse the world of humans and begin remaking it in his own image.


Among those Apocalypse is able to recruit is Eric Lehnsherr, better known as Magneto (Fassbender), who has gone into hiding and now has a wife and child. However, when his identity is discovered, his new family is accidentally killed by the authorities trying to capture him, and Magneto vows revenge.


Apocalypse’s efforts don’t go unnoticed, however. Professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy) has been finding and training mutants for years at his secluded institute with the aid of a supercomputer, and he tries to locate Apocalypse and his new disciples as well. This plan backfires when Apocalypse destroys Xavier’s computer and blows up the institute itself. Only some fast action by the aptly named Quicksilver (Evan Peters) saves the lives of many of the students.


Now that the battle lines are drawn, Xavier and some of his star students go to Egypt to find Apocalypse, who has managed to enhance the powers of his own recruits, including Magneto. While Magneto tries to monkey with the earth’s magnetic poles, causing widespread destruction, Apocalypse plans to kidnap Xavier and go through a ritual where he can take over the professor’s body and powers to mentally control everyone.


If this last paragraph sounds familiar, it’s because Apocalypse’s plans are somewhat similar to those of every world-conquering or world-destroying supervillain that has been unleashed on this planet since the dawn of superhero movies. The screenwriters don’t waste a lot of time, other than having the villain engage in a rant or two, on motivation, instead preferring to concentrate on the action.


In X-Men: Apocalypse, viewers get plenty of action, most of it in the big showdown finale that again bears striking similarities to the airport showdown in Captain America: Civil War minus one key element, the humor. These heroes and villains go at it in separate, grim showdowns. Apocalypse does introduce one new interesting villain into the mix, Psylocke (Olivia), who resembles a dominatrix with a whip and is memorable more for her costume than her character.


X-Men: Apocalypse is best noted for its acting ensemble. The ‘older” actors, such as Fassbender, McAvoy, Isaac, and Jennifer Lawrence (who, at 25, gives new meaning to that term) have numerous awards and nominations, but the filmmakers have added a new group that threatens to surpass that awards total eventually. Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Evan Peters, and Kodi Smit-McPhee don’t have universal name recognition, but their work in various independent films and other projects has been duly noted by critics. I’d like to say that they shine here, but, sadly, the movie gives them relatively little to do.


In fact, like most superhero team-up epics, the 20 or so main characters are engaged in a battle for screen time that rivals the bitter struggles displayed on screen. The storyline that resonates the clearest is that of Magneto. Due to his prominent place in the X-Men universe and Fassbender’s screen presence, he has been given even more depth to a backstory that already was incredibly tragic, dating back to his childhood days in Auschwitz (which plays a role in this movie as well). The only real human emotion that manifests itself in Apocalypse is the tragedy surrounding his unmasking and the loss of his family. Ironically, he isn’t discovered through the efforts of the police, but when he reveals himself by performing a humanitarian act, saving a co-worker.


Although, in the comics, Charles Xavier is an equal counterpart to Magneto, at least in this version of the movies, he takes somewhat of a backseat. But the friendship the two men still have for each other, no matter how much events test it, has given the X-Men its level of humanity that has endeared the comic series to generations of fans. That humanity is less evident here than in the other movies.


X-Men: Apocalypse will appeal far more to series fans than to casual filmgoers. The movie contains some gems, like the origin of the romance between Cyclops (Sherida) and Jean Grey (Turner) and the introduction of Storm (Alexandra Shipp). And there’s an almost obligatory cameo appearance by an unbilled Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. But these moments are widely scattered in a nearly two-and-one-half hour movie. The rest of the film plays as if the script were hastily rewritten from a dozen similar generic battle films just enough to accommodate these characters. And it hits theaters less than a month after another Marvel blockbuster went over the same ground with more wit and originality. Twentieth Century Fox owns the rights to the X-Men (its only significant Marvel property other than the Fantastic Four), but the series is stagnating. Without some new creative energy soon, X will mark the spot where this franchise is finally buried. 

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X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) on IMDb