Midway through X-Men: Apocalypse, a young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) remarks to Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and several other mutants upon leaving a screening of Return of the Jedi that "the third one is always the worst." This is an attempt by director Bryan Singer to zing the Brett-Ratner directed X-Men: The Last Stand (again) but the joke backfires on him, as X-Men: Apocalypse is the worst film in a new trilogy that also includes X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Although the cast of mutants young and old is talented, Apocalypse suffers from a generic villain in Oscar Isaac's En Sabah Nur (aka Apocalypse). The film offers a lot of frenetic action and flashy effects but stumbles with character development and narrative, which makes it a slight disappointment after the high of Days of Future Past.
The film opens in ancient Egypt, where the first mutant, Apocalypse, is about to transfer his presence into a younger body to remain immortal. The process is interrupted and he is betrayed, but his body is preserved for centuries in the rubble of a fallen pyramid. Apocalypse awakens in 1983 and discovers a world of violence and despair, and plans to aid in destroying humanity so he can rule the post-apocalyptic world. While Apocalypse recruits mutants Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Angel (Ben Hardy), the film catches up with Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult). Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters is more popular than ever, and Raven recruits Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from a brutal German fighting ring to the protection of Xavier's program. Quicksilver (Evan Peters) also comes to the school to find his father, Magneto, who is in hiding after the events in Days of Future Past.
Apocalypse is most successful when exploring its characters' backstories. The entire X-Men film series feels like an extended back-and-forth between Xavier and Magneto, and Apocalypse reveals the traumatic event that sent Magneto over the edge. Although I hate obnoxious moviegoers, I had to chuckle when the man behind me in the theater last summer said, "That's why Magneto the way he is!" Yes, it is. A big problem here is Simon Kinberg's episodic screenplay. He tries to pack too much into the film, leaving it feeling like a string of vignettes rather than a cohesive whole. It was not necessary for Singer to introduce and explain the entire X-Men universe in one 144-minute film. More poignant than the various introductions is Raven's return to the fold, and the idea that mutants have only each other for protection is a powerful theme that should have been better explored, particularly given the villain's move to sway mutants to his cause.
Speaking of the villain, Oscar Isaac is underutilized as Apocalypse, who, despite some deadly mutant powers, is a pretty generic villain. The guy just wants to rule the world, and he left his personality back in ancient Egypt. Perhaps all the blue make-up weighed Isaac down, but Apocalypse lacks the actor's typical gravity and charm. If you've seen the Honest Trailers send-up of this film, you know it makes a good point. Why during the climax does Apocalypse allow other mutants to weaken his powers when earlier in the film he kills a group of guards with just his mind? Apocalypse could have been a fantastic villain if better presented, as he provides the same dark refuge as Magneto but on a global scale. Apocalypse is dramatically disappointing and occasionally dull, but is still handsomely shot by Singer. The cast is solid across the board, and, should they return for future installments, I hope they find a story more worthy of their talents.
THE 4K ULTRA HD AND BLU-RAY:
Fox releases X-Men: Apocalypse on 4K Ultra HD with a HEVC/H.265 encode at 2.40:1. This is one of the first 4K discs I have viewed, and it looks fantastic. The image is immaculately detailed and sharp throughout the entire presentation. The 4K disc offers improvements in color thanks to HDR, and fine-object detail is a tick better. The blue-grey color scheme is crisp and clean, skin tones appear accurate, and color saturation is excellent. Black levels are inky and shadow detail is abundant. Some of the effects have a softer appearance, which is more noticeable on the 4K disc. The Blu-ray's 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is as impressive, and neither presentation suffers from compression artifacts or digital anomalies.
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which I sampled in 7.1 Dolby TrueHD is fantastic. This is an incredibly immersive presentation from start to finish, and both clarity and range are excellent. Quiet, dialogue-driven scenes are perfectly balanced, and the frenetic action sequences never sound muddy or crowded. The LFE is put through the paces, and the moment where Cyclops fries a tree with Xavier nearly got me a noise complaint. Ambient effects surround the viewer throughout, and the action sequences are positively ground shaking. John Ottman's score is appropriately integrated and sonically pleasing. The Blu-ray drops the Atmos option but offers the 7.1 Dolby TrueHD core. Across the two discs you get French, Portuguese, Spanish, German and Italian 5.1 dubs and a host of subtitle options.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the 4K Ultra HD disc, the Blu-ray disc, and a code to redeem both iTunes and UltraViolet HD digital copies. The discs are packed in a black Ultra HD eco-case that is wrapped in a glossy slipcover. On both the Ultra HD disc and Blu-ray you get a Commentary by Director Bryan Singer and Writer/Producer Simon Kinberg. This is an interesting listen, and both provide good insight into the X-Men universe and shooting this film. On the Blu-ray disc only you get X-Men: Apocalypse: Unearthed (1:03:58/HD), an excellent, multi-part making-of with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and cast and crew interviews. You also get a number of Deleted and Extended Scenes (28:11/HD) with optional introductions by Singer; a Gag Reel (8:20/HD); a Wrap Party Video (4:46/HD); Theatrical Trailers (7:15/HD); and a Gallery (HD).
Bryan Singer does not reach the high of Days of Future Past with this follow-up, which suffers from an episodic narrative and generic villain in Oscar Isaac's Apocalypse. The cast is more than game for the action and the film is generally entertaining, but it is not among the best in this film series. The 4K Ultra HD presentation is fantastic, and the set includes a number of worthwhile bonus features. Recommended for fans.