For those keeping up on comic-book movies, all superheroes have proven so invincible against mere mortals that the rulers of Marvel and DC Entertainment have had no choice but to pit their franchise players against one another.
So far this year we’ve had “Batman v. Superman,” “Captain America: Civil War” and now “X-Men: Apocalypse.” The new film sees the mutant world of X-Men shatter into enemy camps with four of their major players joining a new super villain against Professor X and his band of merry mutants.
One thing to consider though: once moviemakers get through this family feud phase among superheroes, who on earth are these super creatures going to battle? Ah-hah, I just said it: no one on earth. It’s going to have to be the mutants v. E.T.’s.
Meanwhile, though, back on earth, Fox and director Bryan Singer must file a ninth installment of Marvel’s X-Men so they dredge up — literally they dredge this guy up — the first and most powerful mutant from ancient Egypt known as En Sabah Nur, aka Apocalypse, entombed for several millennia.
While he’s been in hibernation, the world has changed more than a little and Apocalypse doesn’t like these changes one bit. About the noise, politics and pollution we can all agree with the old guy. But his real objection to the new world order is that no one worships him as a god. No, make that as the god.
He certainly can bring hellfire and brimstone raining down upon civilization in a blink of his evil eyes so he has a point: this dude really has godlike power. In fact, he saves any new theology the need for a devil. With a god like Apocalypse who needs a devil?
The key to this new installment can be found on the first page of Fox’s production notes. Singer and his producer-screenwriter, Simon Kinberg, say they seek to top their last super-hit film, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014). So every shot, scene and sequence seeks to clobber you with more CGI, more stunts and more visual effects.
Top the last film, they do. Make a better piece of storytelling, they do not.
To give them their due, any X-Men movie runs into road blocks right away. Unlike Marvel’s Avengers series of comic books and movies, the X-Men track back and forth in time trying to keep on a historical timeline in an alternative universe that nonetheless contains a Cuban Missile Crisis and an actor named Reagan in the White House.
So all X-Men movies must establish in the first act what year is it, what age its characters are — are these the younger or older versions? — and remind you, once again, who has what special powers.
It’s sort of like a family Christmas dinner that happens every other year so introductions and catching up last through the cocktail hour and well into the first course. By the time you’ve got everyone straight, you’re on your way home.
The super villain is played by that splendid, wide-ranging actor Oscar Isaac. There is something perverse, though, about hiring such a fine actor and then encasing him in so much prosthetics, thick makeup, layered costumes and a headdress that he’s scarcely recognizable.
More perverse still is handing such an actor a role of fiery grunts, gestures and posturing that any ham actor from community theater could probably strut through this with dignity intact.
Anyway this Apocalypse awakens from his slumber. It’s 1983 and he’s still, of course, in Cairo.
He recruits four followers — all apocalypses need four horsemen, you’ll recall — the sullen Erik Lensheer/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), the barely dressed Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (the curvaceous Olivia Munn), a bewinged, angry cage fighter Warren Worthington/Angel (Ben Hardy) and the wintry Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp).
All that can stop him from destroying this world in order to build one more to his liking is a young team of X-Men. (X-Kids?) Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, ever alluring in either incarnation) begins the recruitment drive starting with a newcomer, an interesting East Berliner, Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), demonic in appearance, even sporting a long barbed tail, yet more punk than goth, with teleportation abilities among others.
She drops in on her old friend and mentor Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy, now almost bald) whose radical School for Gifted Children supplies more fighters: Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), both of whose extraordinary powers remain out of their firm control.
Other youngsters ready to rumble include extreme-speed artist Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Jubilation Lee/Jubilee (Lana Condor), able to shoot pyrotechnic energy blasts from her hands.
Anyway, Magneto causes the earth to go into upheavals and major cities to collapse while Apocalypse gains control of Professor X mind and then his body as well. All nuclear weapons the globe over are thrust up into space and the world nearly comes to an end.
Is it a spoiler to say that it doesn’t?
Getting to that “nearly” is not half the fun, however. The CGI overload grows increasingly wearisome and the need to bring such an extraordinary number of fighters into the battle — the actors already got billing and pay checks so you gotta use ‘em — drags things out to insane lengths.
The let’s-top-ourselves mentality results not in more tension or drama but sheer overkill. You do have to admire the writers (Singer, Kinberg, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris receive story credit) for figuring out how to bring in each mutant and his or her individual skill sets into a battle that rages across the ruins of Cairo.
What you don’t have to admire are the thin characterizations, absurd histrionics, grab-bag motivations and over reliance on the FX guys to get the writers out of the messes they dream up.
The end — of the movie, not the world — can’t come soon enough.
Opens: May 27, 2016 (20th Century Fox)
Production companies: Bad Hat Harry, Kinberg Genre, Hutch Parker, Donners’ Company
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Luca Till, Josh Helman, Ben Hardy, Lana Condor, Zelko Ivanek, Anthony Koneehny
Director: Bryan Singer
Screenwriter: Simon Kinberg
Story by: Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
Producers: Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner
Executive producers: Stan Lee, Todd Hallowell, Josh McLaglen
Director of photography: Newton Thomas Sigel
Production designer: Grant Major
Costume designer: Louise Mingenbach
Music: John Ottman
Special visual effects: John Dykstra
Editors: John Ottman, Michael Louis Hill
PG-13 rating, 143 minutes