This year’s crop of comic book-based superhero blockbusters has so far proved disappointing,
with the exception of the quirky Deadpool. The Marvel Universe is well out in front under the control of the Walt Disney studio. Its latest release, Captain America: Civil War, fared better than Warner Bros-DC Comics’ Batman v Superman. 20th Century Fox gained a slice of the action with Marvel’s X-Men characters.
No doubt fans have their particular favourites in the various strands. Their box office success varies, but one feature is constant. They are expensive to make, use the latest computer graphics and you see it all on the big screen.
Since they first emerged in in 2000, the X-Men series is up to seven plus two spinoffs (The Wolverine and Deadpool). The latest, X-Men: Apocalypse (20th Century Fox), follows the two best in the series, X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future.
Both were set in recent history — the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962, and 1973, when an attempt was made to assassinate President Nixon as the battle between the Brotherhood of Mutants and Professor Xavier’s X-Men escalated.
These also set a high hurdle for fourth-time director Bryan Singer, who takes the story back to Ancient Egypt and the original mutant tyrant, Apocalypse (an imposing Oscar Isaac), who is entombed in a pyramid when rebels try to stop him becoming immortal.
Thousands of years later, in 1983, he awakens and, after watching a lot of television, decides the world must be destroyed in order to save it.
(Among what he sees are scenes of President Reagan, Pope John Paul II and an episode of the TV series Knight Rider.)
The mayhem commences when he recruits a team of mutants — the Four Horsemen/women: hard-winged Angel (Ben Hardy), telekinetic Psylocke (Olivia Munn), weather-controlling Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and metal-bending Magneto (Michael Fassbender).
The introduction of Magneto shows him as a Holocaust survivor and steelworker in communist Poland.
Meanwhile, Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) is educating more benign mutants at a school for gifted pupils in upstate New York. They include Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Phoenix (Sophie Turner) as well as two newcomers: optic beamloaded Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and the long-tailed teleporting Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
Adding to the large cast are Rose Byrne as CIA agent Moira MacTaggert
and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in a berserk show-stopping episode that promises more to come (like another sequel).
Where X-Men: Apocalypse succeeds and others don’t is having a clear narrative, heaps of character development and a lot of humour, without descending into parody. The momentum slows towards the end as the repetitive fight sequences offer little novelty and worldwide destruction looks all too familiar.
PS: For a sneak preview of what’s next, sit through the credits.
Rating: Mature audiences (violence, offensive language and content that may disturb); 143 minutes.
• Film-going habits are changing and video on demand services such as Netflix have alternative offerings. Many of these are new productions not able to be seen in cinemas. I have reviewed three of them in the Clips column.