X-Men: Apocalypse, the latest instalment of Bryan Singer's hugely successful superhero franchise, has been called bloated, special effects-heavy and cliched – have Marvel's magnificent mutants finally run out of power?
The new film, the ninth in the X-Men franchise, features an ensemble cast of stars that includes James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner and Oscar Isaac. Professor Xavier (McAvoy) and his gifted mutants must unite to fight an ancient deity called Apocalypse (Isaac) who has woken from a millennia-long sleep and plans to take revenge on the world with his four henchmen (the Horsemen).
The X-Men films have been on a winning streak for some time, but critics have called Apocalypse a middling chapter in the series, burdened by overblown action and tired conventions.
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"The early scenes are promising," says Helen O'Hara in Empire. But with an immense number of existing characters to assemble, and new characters to introduce, we spend the first hour zipping from one person to another. Many of the actors have little to work with, says O'Hara, which is a "perennial danger in a film with such a huge and talented cast, and such enormous ambitions".
If you have seen one cinematic apocalypse, "you've seen them all", says Geoff Berkshire in Variety. The usually reliable comic-book franchise has disappointingly succumbed to "an exhausting case of been-there-done-that-itis".
Berkshire credits Singer with pioneering the contemporary wave of superhero movies with 2000's X-Men, and a successful return to the series two years ago with Days of Future Past, but says perhaps "he should have quit while he was ahead". Apocalypse, he concludes, has "too many characters and an over-reliance on visual effects".
Yes, Singer shaped the DNA of the modern comic book movie, says Luke Lancaster on CNet. X-Men and X2 "became the blueprint for the realistic superhero". The problem, says Lancaster, is that we have had over a decade of superhero movies since and Apocalypse might not be good enough.
With so many characters crammed in, some of them are bound to get short-changed, adds Lancaster. Meanwhile Isaac's Apocalypse character is "just another forgettable antagonist in the modern onslaught of Big Purple Villains".
Indeed, both Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse are superhero extravaganzas with "severe traffic control problems", says Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. But while the former keeps things flowing reasonably smoothly, the latter "resembles a bumper-car nightmare".
Fans will have many bones to pick with this "bloated if ambitious" attempt to shuffle as many mutants as possible into a story, but that won't stop the film from soaring at the box office, adds McCarthy. He notes that Singer's last franchise outing, X-Men: Days of Future Past, made $748m (£511m) worldwide, the highest grosser in the X-Men bunch to date.
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