X-Men: Apocalypse

It’s easy to overlook the X-Men series these days.  As a whole it is better than the stinkers that Warner Brothers is currently putting out in the DC universe, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy excepted.  But Professor X’s protégé’s can’t touch what Marvel is doing.  The series is the very definition of middle of the road and it’s odd to think that such a beloved comic book franchise like the X-Men could inspire so little fanboy enthusiasm at this point.  It is probably another sign of the maturity of the comic book movie genre.

In the latest installment, a powerful mutant, named En Sabah Nur or Apocalypse, played by Oscar Isaac appears in Egypt.  Apocalypse may very well be the legendary first mutant.  He has the power to absorb other mutant’s power and has appeared at various times in history.  With every appearance he gathers four powerful mutants around him to serve as his main henchmen.  Get it?  The four horsemen.

As you can probably guess from his name, he has examined our modern world and found it lacking.  His goal is to destroy our civilization and make room for more mutants.  I really love comic book movies, but they need to find another plot.

This isn’t a bad movie.  Brian Singer, the director and co-screenwriter along with Simon Kinberg, knows what he’s doing, especially with these characters.  The film drags a little in the middle but otherwise moves along at a spritely pace.  There’s a long buildup to the main conflict but it is expertly handled.  Most of the leads here are inherited: James McAvoy as Professor X, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique and others and they all know how to play their characters and do a good job.  The newcomers are pretty well cast too.  Olivia Munn isn’t given much to do as Psylocke, but she’s pretty good.  Kodi Smit-McPhee plays a young Nightcrawler with smarts and vulnerability.   There are lots of others worth mentioning that I don’t have time for.

Oscar Isaac deserves praise for making Apocalypse a compelling villain.  He knows exactly what his chosen henchmen need and gives it to them.  Even his casual disregard for the lives of regular humans is depicted as acts of fatherly love.  It is chilling.

And yet this movie fails to hit its mark emotionally.  I hinted at the reason earlier.  We’ve seen this before.  In the superhero world powerful megalomaniacs trying to destroy civilization in order to clear the way for something better crop up at least a couple of times a year.  I’m sure the superheroes circulate white papers amongst themselves on best practices for dealing with it.

Consequently, X-Men Apocalypse is a placeholder.  The filmmakers take no chances and do not advance the genre appreciably.  It’s a pretty movie; the effects are tremendous and you really should see it in a theater.  But it won’t rock your geeky little world.  Maybe it’s time for new blood to take over the franchise, or perhaps to give it a rest for a few years.

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