Rated PG-13 (2:24)
The last two “X-Men” movies — “Days of Future Past” (2014) and “First Class” (2011) — were wonderful surprises that didn’t conform to the notion that sequels are, more than likely, woefully inferior to the original. Rejuvenating the Marvel franchise with a strong, alternate cast playing youthful versions of the characters turned out to be a stroke of blockbuster inspiration.
But it may be too much to ask for cinematic lightning to strike three times, as “X-Men: Apocalypse,” which has some exhilarating scenes, ultimately turns into the kind of lumbering, special-effects- laden spectacle that the previous films mostly avoided.
Savvy moments where our mutant heroes become relatable as human beings are outweighed by pyrotechnics, especially in the second half.
While “First Class” was set in the early ’60s and the time-traveling “Future Past” partially took place in 1973, this one has the early ’80s as a backdrop, a time when humanity is still uncertain on how to deal with the revelation that mutants with special powers walk among us.
After the near-tragic events at the end of “Future Past,” Erik (Michael Fassbender), aka Magneto, has fled to rural Poland, where he lives a quiet life as a metal worker with a wife and daughter. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), aka Mystique, has gone underground in Germany, helping fellow mutants forced into elaborate cage-fight matches escape. One of those she frees is Kurt (Kodi Smit-McPhee), aka Nightcrawler.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) continues to run his School for Gifted Youngsters (sort of a magnet school for mutants) with an able assist from Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), aka The Beast.
Teenage Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), aka Cyclops, is brought to the school be-cause he has no clue how to keep his mutant power — the deadly beams from his eyes — under control. The whole mutant thing runs in the family as he’s brought to Xavier’s attention by his brother Alex, whose superhero name is Havok.
When he doesn’t have death rays clouding his vision, Cyclops is able to see an attraction with another student, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), who coincidentally has trouble controlling her telekinetic powers.
The individual stories intersect when humanity falls under threat from Apocalypse (an underutilized Oscar Isaac), an ancient, powerful mutant from Egypt who is awakened from a long slumber. Unsurprisingly, he’s not a big fan of the modern world and seeks to destroy all of civilization and make himself the supreme ruler of whatever’s left.
He has a few power-hungry, mutant underlings on his side, including Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Angel (Ben Hardy). He even recruits the emotionally wounded Magneto. Of course, our good mutants have to save the day.
There are flashes of brilliance. The scene where Magneto’s cover is blown and he and his family are confronted by local Polish police in a forest is a strikingly staged and surprisingly emotional moment in a movie that could use more of them.
Also, it’s nice to see that Fassbender, McAvoy and Sheridan don’t look as if they’re slumming just because they’re in a superhero movie. As with the previous two films, there are some sly nods to the era’s pop culture.
But the problem with this latest incarnation, once again directed by Bryan Singer, can be summed up in one character: Quicksilver (Evan Peters). In “Future Past,” his ability to move so fast that everything around him turns to dreamlike slow motion was a highlight. His big scene, set to the Jim Croce song “Time in a Bottle,” remains a masterpiece of tongue-in-cheek humor and effects.
In “Apocalypse,” he does a similar feat, except this time it’s to the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” While it’s still impressive, you will feel as if you’ve seen it all before.