Thursday, May 26, 2016

Not the best of 'X-Men' movies

Fear Apocalypse? Not with the X-men around.

For some reason, X-Men: Apocalypse was screened for critics a couple of weeks back. Normally, early screenings are welcome, but with a movie as diffuse as this one, the details already have begun to blur into a miasmic haze of mutants and overblown action.

As for those mutants, their powers can be kept straight only by devotees with an addiction to Marvel Comics or those willing to keep a scorecard.

Best as I can recall, X-Men: Apocalypse boils down to this: Another bad-ass villain -- this one more than 5,000 years old -- must be fought by a bunch of X-men with idiosyncratic powers.

Of course, both the bad guy and X-Men are crammed into a high-stakes battle of one sort or another. You already know the drill; a digressive plot is punctuated with lots of wanton destruction.

Call this a medium-grade helping of X-men, another Marvel Comics movie that's glutted with mayhem and characters from Marvel's over-populated universe.

In this case, the story centers on Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), a character who was entombed in ancient Egypt. A terrific actor, Isaac is buried under lots of make-up. He's recognizable, but I half wondered whether it mattered who was playing this powerful villain.

Once revived from millenniums of slumber, Apocalypse assembles a posse consisting of rogues. These are (wait for it), the proverbial Four Horseman, and they're led by Pole Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Magneto, we learn, has been living a quiet life after his family was destroyed in Auschwitz.

The Holocaust as a comic-book plot device? Best not to think about it.

Years after World War II, Magneto experiences new injustices. He's then reborn as an angry mutant with an abiding grudge against humanity.

Olivia Munn plays Psylocke, a woman with telepathic powers, a chip on her shoulder and a costume that enables her to moonlight at an S&M festival.

Meanwhile, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) schools fledgling mutants in the art of putting their powers to good use rather than destroying civilization. He's assisted by Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult).

Additional mutants include Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), a mutant whose brother Alex/Havoc (Lucas Till) already understands his powers. And you'll find a bunch of other mutants including Quicksilver and Nightcrawler, characters I mention only because I like the names.

By the way, the ability of some of these mutants to shoot destructive rays from their fingertips or eyeballs created waves of low-rent nostalgia for me, echoes of the old Flash Gordon serials.

This time, X-Men keep appearing in what seem to be droves, including Jennifer Lawrence's Raven.

Despite the man X-Men, director Bryan Singer, can't quite elevate this one into the superhero stratosphere. Too bad, he's done better X-Men work before, notably in 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past.

I can't say that I hated watching Apocalypse. It unreeled with the usual fury, but its playbook evolves over two-and-a-half hours without finding much that's inspired.

And really, after Hunger Games and other X-Men movies, can't Jennifer Lawrence find something better to do with her time and talent? Et tu Michael Fassbender.

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