Superheroes are coming under fire these days, sometimes from each other, sometimes from their previously adoring public. Batman turned against Superman, Iron Man turned against Captain America, and now, unexpectedly, critics are turning against the X-Men. Early reviews of X-MEN: APOCALYPSE the ninth film in an otherwise well-regarded franchise, have been not just negative but downright hostile.
The movie has been called “weightless,” “lifeless,” “a bloated, snoozing bore.” What gives? Could any film starring America’s sweetheart, Jennifer Lawrence, and directed by the acclaimed Bryan Singer (now on his fourth “X-Men” installment) really be that bad?
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE is definitely one of the series’ weakest entries, but it’s far from a total disaster. Is it sluggish and overlong? Does it contain roughly 100 more characters than it needs? Does the roaring climax have the ring of the familiar? In other words: Is this a superhero movie? The answer to all of the above is yes. That said, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE written by series regular Simon Kinberg, has a few things to recommend it. For starters, the movie’s topical theme — it’s always topical — isn’t alien invasion, government overreach or the moral quandaries of fighting terrorism.
This time, the villain is an ancient Egyptian god nicknamed Apocalypse (an enjoyably condescending Oscar Isaac) who wakes up in the early 1980s and begins amassing followers to help him “cleanse” the Earth. Insane religious zealotry — now there’s an idea.
What’s more, nearly every mutant gets his or her moment. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto goes mostly for pathos (how much personal loss can one guy suffer, anyway?), but Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey makes a grand showing, as does — spoiler alert! — Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. As in 2014’s X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, the fast-moving Quicksilver (Evan Peters) all but steals the show. James McAvoy is dependably elegant as the mutant guru Charles Xavier. Critics have generally regarded the X-MEN films as superhero fare for the thinking man, and it’s true that this movie isn’t thinking too much.
Maybe X-MEN: APOCALYPSE has fallen short of high expectations, or maybe this forward-looking franchise is being outpaced by the Avengers. At any rate, the spring of 2016 seems like an awfully late date to start complaining of superhero fatigue.