Midway through the 1980s-set “X-Men: Apocalypse,” some merry mutants from Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters take an unauthorized field trip to see “Return of the Jedi.” Most leave the theater disappointed, remarking, “The third movie is always the worst.”
It’s a winky-faced jab at “The Last Stand,” the Brett Ratner-directed third X-Men movie from a decade ago, widely regarded as the worst in the franchise.
Despite costing millions of dollars in salaries, special effects and marketing, “X-Men: Apocalypse” feels like an exercise of obligation, just another item on 20th Century Fox’s spring honey-do list: Replace the batteries in the smoke alarms, release another X-Men movie, clean the gutters. Rarely has the end of the world felt so inconsequential.
The threat this go-round is En Sabah Nur, or Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), a blue-faced mutant of vast, indeterminate power who predates the Egyptian pyramids.
After millennia trapped in suspended animation, Apocalypse sets out to recruit mutants who will serve as his “four horsemen.” Together they’ll rejigger the world more to his liking, presumably with more hieroglyphs and fewer hair metal bands.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of opposition. The X-Men of recent films don’t hang together much. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) spends her nights risking her life in underground mutant fight clubs. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) lives a lie as he hunkers down in the woods of Poland with his wife and daughter. Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) is the genteel headmaster of a respectable school for damaged youths.
About half a dozen more story threads unwind from there. Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) copes with his newfound ability to shoot red force-beams out of his eyes. Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) pines for Mystique while building military-grade ordnance in the school’s basement and hiding his blue nature. Telepath Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is troubled by fiery visions of the future. Winged Warren Worthington (Ben Hardy) is stuck in a cycle of drunkenness and self-abuse.
And all of this adds up to … not much. It’s density without depth. If characterization were a real concern, one of the mutants might actually be upset when a family member is killed.
“Apocalypse” is the ninth “X-Men” movie. Where it fits sequentially doesn’t really matter. Even though the X-Men rebooted their history in 2014’s “Days of Future Past,” director Bryan Singer has never seemed to care about the continuity of the film franchise or being faithful to the comics. Pages and pages of rants remain online detailing how each X-Men movie has played fast and loose with what came before, ignoring various characters’ backstories, motivations and powers.
Setting “Apocalypse” in the 1980s is just a gimmick for the costume department. If the time period mattered beyond the simple tickling of the nostalgia bone, Xavier, Mystique, Magneto and Moira Mactaggart (Rose Byrne) — all present during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis in 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” — would be in their 50s by now, and Scott Summers would be young enough to be the son to brother Alex (Lucas Till).
There’s simply not much to recommend here. The acting is little more than a series of poses. The stunt and wire work ignore elementary physics. And while the special effects budget has been upped significantly, if you’ve seen one building disintegrate, you’ve seen them all.
The only scenes worth the admission price focus on Magneto’s struggle to retain his quiet life of family solitude. Fassbender is imminently watchable, and his moments before he dons the cape and bullet helmet feel like they belong in a short film. Or maybe just a shorter, better film.
Admittedly, “X-Men: Apocalypse” may simply have the misfortune of being the third superheroes-fighting-superheroes movie released in the last nine weeks. But it’s less compelling than “Captain America: Civil War” and even mopier than “Batman v Superman.”
The best Marvel mutant movie of the year remains “Deadpool.” While watching “Apocalypse,” I couldn’t help but remember the scene in that movie where Deadpool tells the steel-skinned mutant hero Colossus, “I don’t have time for your X-Man bull-%#*@.”
David Frese: 816-234-4463, @DavidFrese
Rated PG-13. Time: 2:24.
3-D or not 3-D?
The added dimension adds nothing. Save your money and go buy some comic books.