It’s hardly a spoiler to tell you that the new X-Men villain wants to bring about the end of the world. It’s right there in the title, his name being Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) and all. He’s a god, powerful in ways we’ve never seen in the X-Men universe. He’s the ultimate villain, really, and that’s kind of the problem. Because if everything is at stake, then nothing is.
Staged as a reboot that still wants to revel in the nostalgia of the 2000-2006 films, X-Men Apocalypse, in theaters May 27, reintroduces audiences to our favorite mutants as teenagers, as they face the greatest threat man has ever known. Popping up like a villain from The Mummy, Apocalypse is the world’s first mutant, buried for thousands of years in a sunken pyramid in Egypt. Why he wants to slaughter humanity is never clear. Over whom he’s supposed to rule once he gets rid of all of us also is never made clear. But he’s a nihilistic madman, so we’re just supposed to accept him without question.
The other players in the game we already know. Professor X (James McAvoy) is happily running the School for Gifted Youngsters, where a teenaged Jean Grey (Game of Thrones‘s Sophie Turner) is scaring the other kids with her wicked nightmares. She’s soon joined by a laser-eyed Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan); the speedy Peter Maximoff (Evan Peters); and the mutant disappearing act known as Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smit-McPhee), rescued from a life of torture by Raven (Jennifer Lawrence). Somewhere in the world, Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) hides, living a quiet life after his little display at the White House in 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Soon, everyone is jolted out of their comfortable little idylls. Erik suddenly gets a timely visit from Apocalypse, who’s auditioning henchmen. Prof. X has a private meeting of his own with the Egyptian god-villain, who displays some of his skills for the empathic educator. And the students get a shock when the government comes knocking at the school door. Suddenly, it’s up to the kids to come to the rescue of the established mutants, and fight those who’d help end the world.
The movie plays the big battle like it’s the Scooby Gang against the Greatest Existential Threat Ever, which seems even sillier since the Apocalypse’s four horsemen are just as clueless as Jean and company. (You’d think an all-powerful deity might choose better henchmen.) As buildings fall and world landmarks crumble, it’s clear we’ve seen all of this before, and done better. There’s nothing innovative or surprising in the way the film goes about its destruction. No wonder Lawrence looks bored half the time, even if Isaac does make a rather committed mutant madman. Besides, are we really supposed to pretend that the world’s going up in smoke before the studio can cash in on the new round of teenaged mutants?
Speaking of whom, while it’s amusing to meet the new Jean Grey, Cyclops and Nightcrawler, as they’re added to the younger cast introduced in 2011’s X-Men: First Class, it’s tough to face another reboot. It’s another origin story in the X-Men saga, while over at the Avengers, they get deeper with every movie, the characters sharing moments that feel earned over the years, even as new heroes are introduced. Maybe these new X-Men kids will get there too, it’s just so draining having to go through the whole process again – sigh – especially when the world keeps ending.