The Netflix-ification of the blockbuster cinema-scape continues apace with Bryan Singer’s tolerable but disposable installment X-Men: Apocalypse. After the inane timeline hopping of his 2014 feature-length episode X-Men: Days of Future Past, Singer settles on the dorkiest timeline with Apocalypse, resurrecting a purple dildo god (Oscar Isaac, overqualified) and satisfying his own career-long Nazi fetish in the bargain.
But none of that plot hoo-ha holds any weight—the only thing that matters is that the Marvel machine keeps chugging, so Apocalypse peddles 144 minutes of pure, uncut franchise maintenance, serving as an anonymous chapter in a never-ending story. In addition to worshiping any number of nostalgia-born narrative threads, Singer is tasked with introducing a new cast of character reboots, including but not limited to Muppet Babies versions of Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler.
The film’s Godzilla-like ability to assemble and then completely waste an ensemble cast of A-list veterans and exciting newcomers would be impressive if it wasn’t emblematic of a new Hollywood apocalypse. It takes a solid half-hour to recap the storylines of key characters—Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique works as a mutant Harriet Tubman and James McAvoy’s Professor Charles Xavier recruits troubled young mutants for his school, while Michael Fassbender’s Magneto masquerades as hunky metal worker/hunky family man/hunk Henryk Gursky.
Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg set Apocalypse in Thriller-jacket 1983, exactly 10 years after the “present-day” events of Days of Future Past, which would be confusing if every character hadn’t spent the intervening years reflecting on the events of the previous film and also doing nothing else. However, when Magneto publicly reveals his powers, his wife and child are killed by police, an event he uses as an excuse to join the resurrected and all-powerful Apocalypse (Isaac) in a plan to rid the planet of nonmutants.
Isaac is arguably the best male actor working today, and he does what he can, but ultimately Apocalypse is just another snooty Marvel villain, a pompous Old Testament jerk wad in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze wardrobe (minus the sick-burn ice puns). Fassbender is also arguably the best male actor working today, but he barely feels present in the role anymore, lost amid a swirl of elbowing story arcs.
As in Days of Future Past, a slo-mo sequence involving Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and some period-appropriate pop pap (the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams”) emerges as the unquestionable highlight, although the film’s attempt to simultaneously expand and marginalize the character just feels like more gross franchise maintenance. You end up dreading the inevitable Quicksilver stand-alone film rather than appreciating a fun moment.
In a perverse twist, the endless recapping and character maintenance constitutes the “good stuff” in Apocalypse, while the interminable final stretch poses predictable revelations and heel-turns against a backdrop of bloodless mass death. The third act is devoted to characters monologue-ing and goofing around while world capitals are reduced to vapor.