In Ancient Egypt, a god is buried. But it is not a god, it is a mutant. Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac). Apocalypse can unlock the true potential in any other mutant, and then use those powers for his own design. That, and he can turn people to dust. After his resurfacing in the 1980s, mutants must band together and reform the X-Men in order to take down Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen.
The first act of the film sets up strong characters and their motivations. We get to see a young Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) as a teen growing up with uncontrolled powers. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) gets a strong emotional arc to once again pit him in a moral battle between good and evil. Fassbender brings the strong acting chops we have expected from him in the past, and the result is the best performance of the film. His story is by far the most emotionally charged, and he is thus given the most amount of screentime to act beyond mere one-liners and action sequences.
Other characters, however, have little to no character exposition. With so many characters, this is to be expected, but it comes across as glaringly obvious as the film progresses into its later acts which characters we are meant to identify with and which characters are expendable. In particular, we have little in the way of villain backstory, which makes Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen less intimidating and less interesting (save for Magneto).
Keeping this in mind, the film is heavily front loaded with world building and exposition. Given the partial reset of Days of Future Past, many new characters have to be introduced and assimilated into their respective mutant factions in the first hour and a half of the film.
In a sense, this world building is compelling for an X-Men fan, but it also drags. With the inadequate villain narrative (again, save for Magneto) it drags all the more, as screentime dedicated to Apocalypse forming his diabolical plot is flat and far from engaging.
Oscar Isaac himself delivers a strangely enthralling yet ham-fisted performance as Apocalypse. Apparently, he was directed to play the character as over-the-top as possible, and he certainly took that note. Everything out of his mouth is booming and deliberately elocuted.
Cinematically, the film is exactly what you would hope for. ASL isn’t so rapid fire as to be headache inducing, and shot scale is dynamic enough to make up for that lack of intensity. Camera movement is controlled and steady as it pans over vast establishing shots of creation and destruction. The effects work is on par with previous installments, although Apocalypse’s makeup is a tad shoddy.
What we get with Apocalypse is a fan service installment to the franchise that effectively reboots the series. Although, it is an overlong crawl through establishing such a reset. The climax we do get does not deliver that final punch that is deserved following two-thirds of a film consisting of character setup and a shoe-horned Wolverine cameo. Fans may enjoy this episode, but the common moviegoer will be left confused and desiring something more.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)