X-Men: Apocolypse (PG-13) ★★★

In this image released by Twentieth Century Fox, Jennifer Lawrence, left, and Evan Peters appear in a scene from, “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

When X-Men: Apocalypse is good, it’s really good. But when it’s bad…

While I have seen all of the X-Men films and liked several of them, I would not go so far as to call myself a fan of the franchise. I know—and respect—that some moviegoers take their superhero films quite seriously, and that many people are looking forward to this latest installment with great anticipation and high hopes. I was not one of those people. The perspective I’m coming from is one where I know who all of the major characters are, but I wouldn’t bet money that I could fill in their backstories or how they’re connected or give you details about what exactly they did in past films. I mention this because I think it’s actually part of the reason I enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse much more than I was expecting to. I simply wasn’t worried about how it fit into the overall mythology or how it differed from the comics or if it even made sense timeline-wise in the whole grand scheme of the X-Men universe. I just let myself escape back into a world where mutants exist… and are constantly trying to destroy each other.

It turns out that the very first mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), was around in a slightly different form waaaaaaay back in ancient Egypt, and boy, was he evil. The film’s plot revolves around what happens when Apocalypse awakens in the ‘80s and decides he needs to shut all of that neon and spandex and big hair DOWN. (I kid, but on a related note I did love all of the film’s decade-appropriate touches, like one character wearing a red Michael Jackson jacket.) He recruits a few other evil mutants to help him in his not-very-well-explained quest to destroy the world, and so of course Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his Gifted Youngsters must come save the day.

In other words, you’re not going to remember this film for its storyline. It’s the same old, same old, just with a lot more mutants. Nor will you remember it for Oscar Isaac, because you can’t even tell it’s him under all that thick blue makeup and costuming. And since Apocalypse mainly growls or yells menacing things, the role is a waste of Isaac’s talent all around. I also found his four evil tagalong mutants to be a total bore.

Thankfully, however, there’s nearly a dozen other characters who are entertaining. My favorite is Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who—just like he did in Days of Future Past during the infamous kitchen scene—absolutely steals the show when he uses his super-speed, this time to save scores of students from a blast during an absolutely incredible and hilarious sequence set to the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”

Another highlight of the film was a deeply emotional moment that takes place during one of Magneto’s (Michael Fassbender) flashbacks. I was surprised to find myself crying; not something I normally expect from a superhero film. As upsetting as the scene was (I’m intentionally not spoiling anything), it was still extraordinarily powerful and went a long way toward explaining Magneto’s behavior—in all of the X-Men films, not just this one. In a similar vein, since we are seeing several familiar X-men mutants as their teenage or otherwise younger selves in the ‘80s, we also get to learn how they first controlled their powers or came to terms with what they can do. Since I have never read any of the comics, it was neat to see so many puzzle pieces fall into place. When it comes to the players on team X-Men, the only one who seemed not thrilled to be there was Raven/Mystique. Jennifer Lawrence phoned in her performance and it bled through to her character. Granted, the writing team didn’t exactly give her strong lines to work with (Exhibit A: “This is war”; Exhibit B: “Forget everything you think you know; you’re not students anymore, you’re X-Men”), but her delivery came off as uninspired and she didn’t bring the same energy as she did in past installments.

So, yes, X-Men: Apocalypse is yet another superhero movie with dozens of characters to keep straight and a predictable plot, which never seems that high-stakes since we already know who survived the ‘80s based on some of the other movies. And yes, once again it offers up an unnecessary 3D version that I can’t recommend—2D is just fine for this one. But the parts that director Bryan Singer gets right—be they heart-wrenching flashbacks or mind-blowing visuals—are what really saves the day.

The Bottom-Line? Despite wasting Oscar Isaac’s talent and having all-around boring villains, X-Men: Apocalypse is still a must-see for fans of the franchise, while more casual superhero enthusiasts will enjoy its bold action sequences and emotional character backstories.

Cast: James McAvoy (Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto), Oscar Isaac (Apocalypse), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven/Mystique), Rose Byrne (Moira MacTaggert), Nicholas Hoult (Hank McCoy/Beast), Sophie Turner (Jean Gray)

Credits: Directed by Bryan Singer; screenplay by Simon Kinberg; story by Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Run Time: 2 hours 16 minutes

Erika Olson © May 27, 2016