X-MEN: APOCALYPSE | ★★

There is a scene a few minutes before "X-Men: Apocalypse" goes mind-numbingly ballistic where four of the younger mutants walk out of a screening of "Return of the Jedi." One states that "The Empire Strikes Back" is still the best "Star Wars" film, to which another adds that it would not have been what it was if not for the first film. Just before exiting the frame, all four agree that the third film in any trilogy is usually the worst. This is meant to be a clever jab at "X-Men: The Last Stand," the original trilogy's third installment, which is passionately condemned by dedicated fans of the series. Ironically, "Apocalypse," the third film in the new trilogy (following "First Class" and "Days of Future Past"), winds up joining "The Last Stand" as one of the most disappointing superhero films in recent years. The emotional complexity of the characters that ultimately define the "X-Men" series is crushed under the weight of the film's senseless spectacle, which features nothing more than what we've already seen a million times over. It's long, loud, ludicrous, and lacks any compelling reason as to why we should care about Marvel's mutants for the ninth time.

In 1983, ten years after the events of "Days of Future Past," Raven Darkhölme / Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) recruits misguided young mutants for Professor Charles Xavier's (James McAvoy) School for Gifted Youngsters. Meanwhile in Cairo, En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the first and most powerful mutant, awakens after thousands of years, seeking to rid the world of mankind and all its creations. Pulling together his own team of mutants, including Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Apocalypse prepares to wreak havoc upon the Earth, forcing Charles, Raven and their powerful young allies to stop the omnipotent mutant before a new world order rises.

"Apocalypse" marks the third time this year a superhero film has jumbled far too many subplots together, and is the second to fail in doing so (this first being "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"). This is especially sad considering how it jumbles less than "Batman v Superman" and "Captain America: Civil War" each did. Many new faces are introduced, though most of them are younger versions of characters from the previous films, and not a single one of them is given enough time to develop before their inevitable confrontation with Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen. Even the older characters are just as underwhelming, as the film assumes that its audience has invested enough in them during the series' long run.

As bloated and undercooked as it is, you can't quite put all the blame on director Bryan Singer; it's hard to imagine that the guy who made the X-Men cool again with "Days of Future Past" would go out of his way to dull them down again with this one. His affection for these characters does shine through from time to time, but it has little to no effect. The actors aren't really at fault either, since they're tasked with overcoming some pretty farcical dialogue. Some of them, particularly McAvoy, Fassbender, "Game of Thrones" star Sophie Turner (playing Jean Grey), and Evan Peters (returning as Quicksilver), try their best, while others find themselves unable to act their way out of their armored spandex. And then there's Lawrence, who isn't really good or bad here; she just looks bored.

The most unfortunate casualty of "Apocalypse" is Isaac, who up until now has had a marvelous track record of great performances. Actors with charisma as singular as Isaac's usually do fairly well in villainous roles. Yet somehow, Isaac is surprisingly lethargic, struggling to imbue Apocalypse with enough menace to distract viewers from the fact that he looks like a "Power Rangers" baddie with the exact same motivation as Ultron from the second "Avengers" film. It doesn't help that about 80% of his vocals were enhanced in post-production; at one point his roar almost sounds like Chewbacca shouting into over a dozen megaphones.

Singer does manage to squeeze a few inspired sequences out of this lengthy piece of fan service, such as another funny (albeit slightly overblown) slo-mo extravaganza with Quicksilver accompanied by a certain Eurythmics song, and a majestic montage underscored by Beethoven's seventh symphony. As amusing as these moments are, they do not compensate for a myriad of clichés that really should go into a guidebook on how not to write a screenplay. Superhero buffs may be satisfied, but all "X-Men: Apocalypse" really does for them is make "Batman v Superman" look pretty competent by comparison.

(4/10)