Less than 10 minutes into the sometimes entertaining 144-minute epic slog that is X-Men: Apocalypse, don’t be surprised if you find yourself distracted by nagging questions. Even comic book fans with a soft spot for this defiantly retro and relatively unpretentious superhero franchise might find themselves thinking, Why does this feel like the 20th movie of the *X-Men when it’s only the sixth? How come these characters constantly whine about how society mistreats them when they could be loving their lives as super-powered grown-ass freaks? Why do the X-Men movies keep cramming in new characters when they’ve barely scratched the surface on those they’ve already introduced?*
You wouldn’t give two shits about any of this nit-picky stuff if this third prequel, set in the Reagan era ‘80s, had deeper or funnier things on its mind than the world-dominating plans of the humorless blue meanie Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac, his charisma crushed by a goofy costume and little to no dialogue). But no, this is really just about another megalomaniac out to rule the world, teaming up with Magneto (Michael Fassbender), the other X-ers forming alliances, and Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) trying to once again drag the deeply conflicted Magneto to the good side.
Even considering the movie’s enjoyable moments, mostly involving McAvoy, or how good and committed the entire cast is, X-Men: Apocalypse can’t rise above its own deja vu. Simon Kinberg’s script gives us Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) hiding her shape-shifting powers in East Berlin and the haunted, angry married-with-kids Erik/Magneto trying to keep things on the downlow while toiling as an ironworker (nice touch) in Poland. Meanwhile, Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters keeps churning out snotty but oddly likable new or recast mutant recruits (we’re looking at you Sophie Turner, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tye Sheridan) with giant chips on their shoulders.
The action, as directed by Bryan Singer, looks expansive and expensive, sweeping from the familiar mansion to spectacular desert vistas and Polish forests and finding time to name-check ‘80s references like Ronald Reagan, John Hughes movies and even Return of the Jedi, when Jean Gray (Turner) emerges from a theater saying, “At least we can agree: The third one’s always the worst.” More of that, please. Because overall, the movie just wears you down and bums you out.
X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t bad enough to kill a huge money machine franchise. But if any band of superheroes could stand a cinematic intervention, stat, it would be these freaks and geeks.