In an act of supreme confidence/delusion (take your pick), Twentieth Century Fox gave critics an earlier than usual look at X-Men: Apocalypse and is allowing reviews to be published more than two weeks before its May 27 opening date.
It's an uncommon move; studios regularly place embargoes on publication, withholding reviews until a day or two before the movies debut. With the strategy, Fox hopes to establish some must-see momentum against its opening weekend competition, Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Instead, Fox may have handed the box office crown to Alice on a Mad Hatter platter.
Despite epic intentions, X-Men: Apocalypse reveals a franchise running in place, its levitation twist on destruction — things fall up rather than down — now a tired visual cliche. It feels like a finale no one has the courage to admit, leaving off at a point in time and tone when Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen's adversarial arc could kick in.
Now the roles of Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto/Erik Lehnsherr belong to James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, actors much too accomplished to spend this much time in green screen poses and telekinetic gazes. To be fair, Fassbender does benefit from Erik's Holocaust back story and mutant persecution leading to the sort of emotionally raw scene X-Men are known for.
X-Men: Apocalypse is sprawling to a fault, in both geography and characters to be given something to do. From Egypt to Ohio, Poland to East Africa, too many mutants still need reintroducing after the timeline curlicue of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Even at 143 minutes, there isn't enough time for everyone.
But the X-Men franchise has always been a scrapper, a galaxy unto itself, legally unbound from the bountiful Marvel universe Disney owns. It had to be resourceful, rebooting with youth since the X-Men superhero bench isn't deep.
The franchise's biggest star, Jennifer Lawrence, is stuck joylessly playing another reluctant leader, the shape-shifting Mystique. Most of the time she can't even be bothered to be blue. A younger Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) are romantically appealing but soft on the action bit, so far.
What results is a few impressive sequences sprinkled around a steadily unimpressive supervillain. Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac, encased like Tut) is ridiculously beatable, considering he's the first mutant and has been soaking up powers from others for thousands of years. He can do anything, including one super party trick that's more entertaining when Ant-Man does it.
Apocalypse rounds up a supervillain posse to siphon the X-Men's powers, especially Charles' Bluetooth telekinesis, so he can whisper in everyone's ear that he's ending the world. Everything boils down to a messianic contest of whose force field is bigger. If the outcome doesn't seem logical even by comic book standards, that's director Bryan Singer scrambling out of a cosmic corner.
Singer stages a few impressive sequences: The opening scene establishing Apocalypse's transfusion technique and entombment until needed, another high-velocity escapade for Quicksilver (Evan Peters) set to a pop ditty, and a bloodbath cameo guaranteed to be spoiled before May 27.
Meanwhile, Singer's judgment can again be questioned for a scene of mutant destruction at Auschwitz that can be interpreted as either a historical fantasy or sacrilege. The director's previous Nazi-themed films, Apt Pupil and Valkyrie, have drawn complaints.
One final note to offer, since X-Men: Apocalypse doesn't: Unlike Disney's Marvel movies, this one doesn't include an end credits stinger, so you aren't obliged to stick around. Day of Future Past did, introducing Apocalypse. The absence here of a setup for a next episode could be telling.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.