X-Men: Apacalypse (2016)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 6/4/16
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Olivia Munn, cameos by Hugh Jackman, Lana Condor, Stan Lee

"X-Men: Apocalypse" is an overstuffed mess of sci-fi spectacle and disaster porn that wisely managed to get to theaters slightly before the similarly themed "Independence Day: Resurgence." The year is 1983. Ronald Reagan is President, "Return Of The Jedi" is in theaters, and it's been ten years since the events in "X-Men: Days Of Future Past" (2014). Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is hiding in Poland and trying to live a simple life, while Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) fights as a mutant rights vigilante and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) continues to expand his school for mutants. CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) is on assignment in Cairo and unwittingly resurrects an all-powerful mutant named Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), who then recruits Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel, and Magneto into helping him destroy the world. Thankfully Xavier, Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Raven, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), Quicksilver, and Nightcrawler are there to stop him.

Apart from a handful of poor visual effects, it's a great looking, top notch production. The 1980's look and feel is extremely well done, and the fashions fit the characters remarkably well. Both James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender deliver strong performances, and we're finally starting to see McAvoy exhibit some classic Xavier qualities. A strong and deliciously defiant Jennifer Lawrence is mesmerizing, and it's wonderful to see Rose Byrne back in action. Sophie Turner is pretty and charming as a budding Jean Grey, but she lacks the edge, sorrow, conviction, and maturity that Famke Janssen brought to the character. The same could be said for Tye Sheridan's Cyclops, who is just a bratty and annoying teenager. It's basically "X-Men: First Class" (2011) all over again, with a new team of young and inexperienced mutants who have to learn how to use their powers and work together. Apocalypse is just another dull and uninteresting villain who likes playing god, and Oscar Isaac's listless performance reflects his character's disinterest in pretty much everything. The biggest surprise comes from Alexandra Shipp, who delivers a masterful and commanding portrayal of Storm that puts Halle Berry's previous work to shame. On the flip side, the biggest disappointment and missed opportunity is Psylocke. I'm a long-time fan of Olivia Munn and was super excited to see her in the film, but she's sorely underutilized and literally has only a half dozen scenes that amount to less than two minutes of screen time. She does little more than look menacing, and her glaringly fake lashes are an eyesore. Honestly, her behind-the-scenes training footage looks ten times better than what ended up in the film, which is a huge shame.

In many ways, the film suffers from the same failings as "Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice" (2016), but to a lesser extent. Both are sluggish, disjointed, overly long, and needlessly packed with gratuitous fan service, and both films nearly collapse under their own massive weight. An uncredited Hugh Jackman makes a pointless extended cameo as Weapon X, and ironically has more screen time than either Shipp or Munn. The film tries to recreate Quicksilver's goofy and lighthearted shenanigans from "X-Men: Days Of Future Past", but unfortunately drives that gimmick into the ground and bleeds all the fun out of it. The humor is hit-and-miss, and Nightcrawler is strapped with the worst of it. The funniest moment actually comes when Scott, Jean, and Jubilee (Lana Condor) come out of a movie theater after seeing "Return Of The Jedi" and argue about its merits. While they disagree on "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back", they all agree that "the third film is the worst," which also serves as a not-so-subtle jab at Brett Ratner's critically panned "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006). As part of a series, the film also suffers from serious continuity issues, although I stopped paying attention to such details many years ago. I guess one can always point to "Days Of Future Past" as erasing the past and rewriting the series, but there's still the annoying issue of Quicksilver, who is very different (and very dead) in The Avengers universe. Still, despite my numerous criticisms and the fact that it's an extremely slow starter, I found the film to be an enjoyable slice of adolescent escapism.