Weighed down by characters, 'X-Men: Apocalypse' doesn't take off

Will 'X-Men: Apocalypse' suffer from superhero fatigue?
Will 'X-Men: Apocalypse' suffer from superhero fatigue?

In 2000, director Bryan Singer established the model for the modern super-team movie with "X-Men," followed by an even better sequel. Yet the weight of all that has transpired in between bogs down "X-Men: Apocalypse," which yields good moments but juggles too many characters and callbacks to earlier movies.

It's not that Marvel's superhero parade has passed Singer by; rather, the director and writer Simon Kinberg (penning his third "X-Men" film) have sacrificed some of the wit and fun associated with the franchise by aping the gigantism of "The Avengers." In addition, the plot flits around so promiscuously even die-hard fans might need a scorecard to keep up.

The villain Apocalypse, played by Oscar Isaac, is also uninspired. Rising to seek world conquest after lying dormant and entombed for thousands of years, he feels too much like a rehash of world-imperiling threats seen elsewhere -- complete with a high disregard for human life and hellacious amount of property damage.

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"X-Men: Days of Future Past" partly dealt with events in 1973, and "Apocalypse" leaps ahead another decade. So while Professor Xavier and Magneto are again played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively (looking distractingly young given the passage of time), characters like Jean Grey ("Game of Thrones'" Sophie Turner) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) are high-school kids, meeting for the first time and wrestling with their developing powers.

Dating back to the comics, the "X-Men" have always excelled at capturing feelings of being an outcast as a youth. That sense of being different and seeking acceptance has taken on greater relevance as a gay-rights metaphor.

Still, this latest movie spends too much time setting up its showdown, as Apocalypse enlists several mutants to his cause. Meanwhile, Xavier initially resists turning his young protégés into warriors, which proves merely an extended prologue to the inevitable battle royale.

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That fight chaotically plays out both physically and psychically. And while there are a few stirring visuals as various characters square off, it's not nearly as clever as "Captain America: Civil War," while becoming mired in building-shattering effects that make "Man of Steel's" carnage-filled climax seem positively restrained.

It's become a given that fine actors now populate these franchises. The sprawling cast, however, leaves too many of them feeling wasted, from Jennifer Lawrence to Olivia Munn, the latter handling a way-cool glowing sword but precious little dialogue.

Once again, Evan Peters provides a dose of comic relief as the speedy Quicksilver, although even that gag is essentially just a reprise from "Days of Future Past."

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What's left, then, are plenty of references that evoke previous movies, from Jean Grey's dark fate to a cameo that shouldn't be spoiled. But that's as much a triumph of logistics as anything else, and almost a distraction for those trying to keep track if everything really holds together within the "X-Men" timeline.

Those who have seen the previous "X-Men" movies will likely feel motivated to keep their run complete, and over 2 hours and 23 minutes, they mostly get their money's worth. But nor will anyone miss much by waiting to catch this prequel on cable or another secondary platform, as opposed to rushing out to see "Apocalypse" now.

Apocalypse" opens May 27 in the U.S.

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