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X-Men: Apocalypse' a bit X-cessive

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Latest X-movie uneven, but still entertaining

The X-Men have had a bumpy ride on the big screen. The first 'X-Men' was a huge part in kickstarting the renaissance of now-ubiquitous superhero movies. However, the franchise took a nosedive with its third installment, necessitating a reboot with 2011's excellent 'Days of Future Past' and 2014's solid follow-up 'Days of Future Past.'

Batting third in this new go-round is 'X-Men: Apocalypse,' with director Bryan Singer back in the driver's seat. This offering is big and chaotic and definitely succumbs a bit to the law of diminishing returns, but it is certainly a damn sight better than 'The Last Stand.'

To me, that's a win.

'X-Men: Apocalypse' takes place in 1983 - 10 years after the events of 'Days of Future Past.' Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, 'Victor Frankenstein') is running his school for mutants in upstate New York. Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender, 'Macbeth') has abandoned Magneto and is living in Poland; he's a steelworker with a wife and daughter. And Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, 'Joy') has gone underground and spends her time trying to help mutants escape from oppressive circumstances.

It all changes when an ancient mutant perhaps the world's first awakens from a long period of accidental suspended animation. En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac, 'Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens' called Apocalypse by many is an incredibly powerful mutant who considers himself to be the rightful ruler of the entire world. A world, it should be noted, that he believes should be cleansed of the weak and the powerless.

Many mutants holdovers like Beast (Nicholas Hoult, 'Mad Max: Fury Road'), Havok (Lucas Till, 'Bravetown') and Quicksilver (Evan Peters, TV's 'American Horror Story'); new faces like Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, TV's 'Game of Thrones'), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, 'Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse'), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, 'Slow West') and Psylocke (Olivia Munn, 'Ride Along 2') are left to decide which side of the line Apocalypse has drawn is the one on which they will stand.

As Apocalypse rebuilds the massive monument that once marked the center of a world he ruled, the X-Men must make their stand, even knowing that he and his Horsemen might well be far too powerful to overcome. Young mutants must learn to be heroes and the more experienced must remember how if they are to have any chance at saving the world.

'X-Men: Apocalypse' has its issues, to be sure. Chief among them is a general sense of crowding; Singer and company have a LOT of people to introduce and a limited time in which to do it. The excessive deluge of mutants largely eliminates any chance to really connect with the new characters. There's a little development primarily Jean and Cyclops but there's just too much going on to allow for any kind of reflection. It is unevenly paced and a bit top-heavy.

However, there's still plenty to like here. The action sequences are strong, albeit perhaps a bit to reminiscent of previous films (truthfully, the film's best set piece an extended slo-mo sequence with Quicksilver bears a strong resemblance to the best scene of 'Days of Future Past').

Additionally, the film has the good fortune of featuring a mess of talent in its cast. Lawrence imbues genre dialogue with the same energy that she gives David O. Russell, but her desire to be done with the franchise does bleed through occasionally. Still, she's talented enough to make it work. McAvoy and Fassbender do great work as always as mutantkind's greatest frenemies; Fassbender in particular manages to put some real pathos in some comic book-y moments of tragedy. Peters is again a highlight, though he doesn't get quite as much to do as we might have liked; Hoult is largely an amiable non-entity, fading agreeably into the background until the CGI kicks in. Rose Byrne ('Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising') is also back as Moira MacTaggart and, since she had her memory wiped at the end of the first movie, basically does the same performance again and is just delightful.

Isaac is clearly trying to chew some scenery as Apocalypse, but the makeup/prosthetics/CGI robs him of much of his considerable screen presence. He's as good as can be expected, but he was definitely hamstrung. Turner is the best of the new mutants, though how much of that is simply due to more narrative involvement is tough to say. Sheridan is OK in a whiny-baby kind of way, though the dynamic between him and Turner never quite clicked. Munn's Psylocke seems like a bit of a missed opportunity, though she does well with what she's got. Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp ('Straight Outta Compton') as Storm and Ben Hardy (TV's 'EastEnders') as Angel exist largely to exhibit their superpowers and not much else.

(Oh, and the cameo that we all knew was coming does in fact come.)

The X-Universe may always be playing catch-up to the MCU, but that's OK. 'X-Men: Apocalypse' may not be as strong an offering as the first two installments, but there's more than enough here to feel good about whatever might be coming next.

[3.5 out of 5]

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