Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. Lots of characters die: crushed by rocks, decapitated, stabbed, trapped inside things, exploded, or slashed to pieces, and you see a good amount blood afterward and some corpses; other violence, including hand-to-hand combat and forced cage-fighting; infrequent cursing, including one use of the f-word; some nightmarish images of world-ending destruction; some romantic stuff, including mentions of past relationships between characters, a flashback of a kiss, and teenage crushes; some cleavage; a scene is set at Auschwitz and includes flashbacks to the Holocaust; and some familial issues, including parental abandonment.
The ‘X-Men’ franchise gets bigger with ‘Apocalypse,’ which brings the mutants face-to-face with the end of the world. The acting is still excellent, but the story lacks any real sense of danger.
By Roxana Hadadi
The level of acting that is present in the X-Men film franchise is always shockingly high: Stars like Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Ian McKellen, and Patrick Stewart are Academy Award nominees and winners. In these films, which were rebooted with 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” and continue with “X-Men: Apocalypse,” the performances have never been the problem.
What does tarnish “Apocalypse,” though, are issues present in so many superhero films these days: subpar character development and a mind-numbing runtime. “Apocalypse” feels simultaneously underwritten and overly self-indulgent, failing to effectively build tension while stretching out 144 minutes.
There are some fantastic scenes here—the kind of moments that effectively capture why the X-Men are so powerful, and why humans would find them so frightening—but the overall danger to our heroes never feels that potent.
“Apocalypse” picks up in 1983, 10 years after the events of “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” in which Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, of “Joy”) revealed mutants to the world and was lauded for saving the President. In the decade since, she’s gone underground, finding and saving mutants from human abuse; Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, of “Victor Frankenstein”) has expanded his school for young mutants; and Erik, formerly the militant Magneto (Michael Fassbender, of “12 Years a Slave”), has started a new life for himself in Poland.
But they, and everyone else in the world, feel a disturbance one day that they can’t explain. Is it only an earthquake? Charles fears it’s something more sinister, and in fact, it is: The mutant En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac, of “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”) has been awakened.
Thousands of years old, phenomenally powerful, and capable of transferring his consciousness between bodies of other mutants as a way to both gain their powers and live forever, En Sabah Nur is disgusted with what the world has become. In his time, he was worshiped as a god, and that’s what he wants again. As he goes about assembling his Four Horsemen, mutants that will help him take over the world, he entices them with talk like “I want to set you free.” But in reality, he’s not looking to save the world—he’s looking to “cleanse” the world.
It falls on the X-Men, of course, to battle En Sabah Nur, and the same questions come up as always when the optimistic and peace-wanting Charles, jaded and realistic Raven, and tortured and nihilistic Magneto are at odds: Should the mutants control their powers or train them? Should they hide who they are or use their abilities to separate from humans? These questions of exclusion vs. inclusion are common for the X-Men, and they’re handled well again here.
But what irritates is how much story “Apocalypse” is trying to tell, and how unevenly it balances this attempt. En Sabah Nur gets an introductory scene that demonstrates how others view him with either fear or adoration, but there’s nothing much to the character himself, and Isaac’s wonderful expressiveness is wasted behind layers of makeup and voice-distortion effects. Raven is repositioned as the film’s primary hero figure, worshiped by young mutants for her actions in 1973, but her character doesn’t do enough. And although there are various new-to-this-story X-Men introduced here, their stories feel either scarce (Tye Sheridan of “Mud” as Cyclops) or rushed (Sophie Turner as Jean Grey).
There is fun stuff, though, amid the destruction of the world. “Welcome to the ‘80s,” one character says in the film, and “Apocalypse” does get some amusing imagery out of the time’s fashions. Quicksilver (Evan Peters, of “The Lazarus Effect”) again gets a cheeky standalone scene demonstrating his speedy skill. And Fassbender is expectedly fantastic as Magneto, bringing exceptional finesse to a role that demands pain, suffering, and trauma in droves. Too bad that “Apocalypse” whiffs on so much other stuff.
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