Director: Bryan Singer
Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender
3 (out of 5) Globes
“X-Men: Apocalypse” opens in 3600 B.C. When was the last time a superhero movie had a ridiculous historical intro? Today’s comic book movies are gritty and down-to-earth, which means they often lack a classical kind of showmanship. But here’s an entry that starts more like “Stargate” or “The Fifth Element” than “Captain America: Civil War.” It’s here we meet our main baddie: the eponymous blue meanie, played by the usually charismatic Oscar Isaac, trapped in makeup and a suit that make him look and act like a block of painted granite that talks (occasionally, a bit). Apocalypse is a super-mutant mistaken for a god in Ancient Egypt. He’s buried in a bottomless pit, and we wait for some idiot to revive him, for whatever dumb reason.
It’s a silly scene, even before the opening credits prove sillier still, sucking the viewer through a time tunnel touting the greatest hits of history (like Jesus, the “Mona Lisa” and the World Trade Center). But it also creates anticipation, gets us excited about what this hellbeast could do once he’s awoken in the 1980s. That kind of touch is gone from today’s comic book movies — the Marvels and the DCs, which keep throwing stuff at us, sometimes in disorganized blobs, then let the well-read nerds chide and insult us for not knowing what’s what.
The “X-Men”s don’t do that. They’re officially old school — not just because the film franchise is 16 years old, but because despite the time-hopping and constant recasting it still plays the same as it ever did: breezy, fun, competent. “Competent” may not set the heart a-flutter, but them’s the breaks. The current trend, upheld by Marvel and DC, is to crank up the ambition — social importance! deep philosophy! the most comic book gods crammed into a single blockbuster ever! — and just about tumble off the screen from all the weight.
The “X-Men”s, by contrast, play like old pros; they were jamming too many superheroes into superhero movies three whole Spider-Men ago. They can slip in social import without breaking the flow. (“X2” had a stealth bits about gay rights, but one had to be pretty thick to miss the subtext.) They can set up further adventures without forgetting about the one in progress. It’s almost weird now watching a comic book movie, like “Apocalypse,” that makes it look easy — that tells a single story, that introduces new characters (or reintroduces them, with new, younger faces), that moves the mythology/franchise along, and doesn’t make one’s head feel like it’s been smashed into a malfunctioning pinball machine filled with wasps.