It has eye-popping special effects and a true larger-than-life villain.
“X-Men: Apocalypse,” is actually about something, with the intramural/intra-mutant quarrel built on a reality that the shoe-horned in fight in the blockbuster “Captain America: Civil War”lacks.
The violence has consequences. Blood is spilled, and people die.
And it has, for the most part, better actors — James McAvoy, the tormented and empathetic Micheal Fassbender, Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence and the omnipresent Oscar Isaac’s jawline and furrowed brow are visible under the makeup and effects as that villain.
With Bryan Singer back behind the camera, the action beats are meaty and the odd lump-in-the-throat is possible as the story sums up so much of what we’ve learned about these characters, who have survived brawls, betrayals, discrimination, the Holocaust and the Atomic bombing of Japan between them.
But the epic effects, titanic struggles timed out every 30 minutes or so and ever-growing, ever-evolving line-up of characters of “Apocalypse,” coming hot on the heels of “Civil War” and “Batman v. Superman” and “Deadpool,” underline the exhausted ingredients of the formula these movies all use. So many movies, so many mutants, with filmmakers straining to find something new to do with them, and watching them try too hard is wearying. They’re joyless technical exercises, as predictable as a video game.
It’s 1983, and Xavier (McAvoy) is happily running his school for the “gifted” (mutants). Magneto (Fassbender) has been in hiding since trying to overthrow the government back in ’73. He’s sweating away in a steelworks in Poland, married with a little girl.
Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is every schoolkid’s heroine after besting Magneto a decade before. But she’s keeping a low profile through the ’80s her own self.
Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) is discovering he’s just as “special” as his brother, Alex, aka Havok (Lucas), and maybe an ordinary high school isn’t for a guy whose eyes can burn through steel.
The lightning-quick Peter Maximoff (Evan Peters) figures it’s time to leave home and show his stuff.
There’s an underground world of mutant cage-fighters in Berlin and a cult dedicated to this long-gone mutant in Egypt. And that cult may get its wish if En Sabah Nur, the Original mutant (Oscar Isaac) comes back from the dead and fulfills his dream of remaking, “cleansing” and ruling the world.
Puny humans have no prayer against the First X-Man. Might the other X-Men have a shot?
This finale to the “prequels” sees Xavier finish rounding up the technology we saw in the original trilogy, and hears McAvoy sound a LOT more like Original Xavier Patrick Stewart in the role.
Xavier preaches “hope” and cautions that every gift can sometimes be considered “a curse.” Especially the most special gifts of all — reading minds, moving objects with your brain, shooting fire out of your eyes and what not.
And the junior mutants learn this lesson the hard way.
The most interesting new character is Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and Singer shows off the best stop-time effects the movies have ever seen as he dashes in to save others in less than a blink of an eye. He gets a his own showcase scene set to ’80s Eurythmics pop.
Least interesting is Psylocke, mostly due to the fetching Olivia Munn’s lack of comfort in her skimpy costume and the elbow-length gloves that confuse her about what to do with her hands.
The most fascinating continuing character is Magneto — Holocaust survivor, given to switching sides and turning on humans because he’s seen the worst the human race has to offer. He’s the most motivated villain these movies have produced.
The coolest character? You know who that is, and can only hope he skips that barber’s appointment and makes an appearance.
Fassbender makes us feel things in ways nobody in the “Avengers” universe seems inclined to try. McAvoy, too, gives his character heart and motivation.
But Lawrence’s disengagement as an actress in her two past-their-expiration-date franchises (“Hunger Games” and X-Men) has been obvious in her performances. She has a “big speech” in this just as she did in the last “Hunger Games,” and she never looks more like a gawky teen than when she’s supposed to be commanding.
Isaac is mostly lost under prosthetics and effects.
“Who rules this world?” he growls, upon awakening to the sight of “$25,000 Pyramid” and “Knight Rider” on TV, ’80s haircuts and Atari and “Six Million Dollar Man” T-shirts.
The attempts at humor don’t have the light touch of the best “Avengers” pictures. Singer and the script and the newby characters try too hard.
Take away “Deadpool’s” self-referential sarcasm and the genuine gloom “Batman” still conjures up, and one is hard-pressed to think of anything novel any of these movies have brought to the medium or the comic book popcorn picture this year.
Box office numbers don’t back this up, but could 2016 be the year we finally overdose on comic book movies? The staggering ticket sales have producers all sure they’ve found the foolproof formula for a blockbuster — Lots of special people, The More Mutants the Merrier — wisecracking and brawling with one another.
But it’s getting to be enough, already. And when the end comes, studio executives, unlike our favorite mutants, are not clairvoyants. They’re killing the golden goose. And when it dies, they’ll never see it coming.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images
Cast: James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Olivia Munn, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Nicholas Hoult
Credits: Directed by Bryan Singer, script by Simon Kenberg. A Fox/Marvel Studios release.
Running time: 2:23