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“X-Men: Apocalypse” stumbles under its own weight


“Let us now start fresh without remembrance,” Professor Charles Xavier says near the beginning of Bryan Singer’s “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

He’s reading to students from T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King”; the quote is about building a future without revenge in one’s heart, which is to say that the mutant students at his “school for gifted youngsters” should use their powers to help humanity even as humanity has hated and feared them in the past.

But Prof. X (James McAvoy) might as well be saying to the audience, “Yeah, the continuity for these movies doesn’t make a lick of sense anymore, just go with it and there will be some punching later.”

Which would probably be okay were “X-Men: Apocalypse” not a soggy mess. This ninth X-Men movie doesn’t have the hostile-to-fun attitude of “Batman v Superman” as much as an exhausted, forced “Again with the mutants?” feel.

And the continuity stuff sure doesn’t help. After a zippy prologue in ancient Egypt to set up this flick’s titular big bad, we skip forward to 1983 (you can tell by the semi-mullets and men’s jackets). The public has known about mutants for about ten years, Xavier is running the school, and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is living a quiet life as a steelworker in Poland. Nobody looks older than they looked in “X-Men: First Class,” which took place in 1963.

Things start rolling when the blue dude from the opening — an ancient, deeply powerful mutant named En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac) — wakes up a few thousand years after he went to sleep only to find that the weak (non-mutants) are ruling the strong (mutants), and that is just unacceptable.

Sooner than you can say “plot device,” Magneto is flushed out of hiding and more annoyed than ever at humanity. Then some familiar faces return. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is trying to get Xavier to mobilize his students. Xavier is admitting to erasing the memory of his friend Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) of their previous encounter (boy, has that X-trope not aged well). And Havok (Lucas Till) is bringing his high school-aged brother Cyclops (Central Texan Tye Sheridan) to the school.

Wait, wasn’t Havok in his late teens in 1963 … nevermind.

Issac, often a brilliant actor, is all but unrecognizable under layers of blue makeup and body armor, but a distinctly Gob Bluth-ian vibe of “I’ve made a huge mistake” occasionally flashes across his performance. Surely, playing an iconic X-villain looked great on paper, but Issac spends most of his time standing around and pontificating, letting his four horsemen, aka mutant buttonmen, do his dirty work.

And confusing work it is. Even a plethora of new mutants — the god-like Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, struggling with an American accent), a reintroduced Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and fanboy-fantasy-object Psylocke (Olivia Munn) — can’t quite save “Apocalypse” from its own muddled pacing, plotting and color palette, not to mention far too much CGI gunk and a self-seriousness that borders on offensive. New rule for superhero flicks: No scenes in Auschwitz, period.

Indeed, the massive cast works against the 147-minute movie — there are just too many folks to keep track of, and we learn next to nothing about most of them. By the two-hour mark, “Apocalypse” has a joyless, checklist feel: Obligatory, scene-stealing Quicksilver set piece, just like in “Future Past?” Yes (and Evan Peters is again excellent as the speedster). Obligatory Cerebro scenes? A few, in fact. Obligatory appearance by a guy with claws? Come on, that doesn’t even count as a spoiler.

In a summer packed with superhero movies, Fox’s “Apocalypse” has managed to get its lunch eaten not just by Disney/Marvel’s vastly superior “Captain America” but by their studio’s own X-spinoff, “Deadpool,” which has twice the heart and 10 times the humor on about a quarter of the budget. If this franchise is ever going to feel exciting again, the X-creatives would do well to take some cues from the Merc with a Mouth: ramp up the energy and take everything just a little less like the end of the world, even if that’s in the title.

And stop having Xavier mind-wipe people. That’s just creepy.



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