X-Men: Apocalypse James McAvoy

Coming after the extravagant pleasures of the Marvel Comics mutants’ last two screen outings, X-Men: Apocalypse, the third entry in the series’ current cycle, is a turgid disappointment.

Where 2011’s X-Men: First Class and 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past nimbly combined the smart and spectacular, X-Men: Apocalypse is a bloated affair boasting too many characters and too little narrative momentum.

The movie’s failings start with its less-than-compelling villain. Buried beneath layers of prosthetic makeup, Oscar Isaac proves underwhelming as god-like mutant Apocalypse, despite his awesome powers. Even so, returning director Bryan Singer certainly pulls out all the stops to give him a grand entrance in 3,600 BC Egypt. There, amid thousands of CGI extras and monumental CGI scenery, the Earth’s first mutant finds his plans to transfer his consciousness into a younger body buried beneath a collapsing pyramid.

X-Men: Apocalypse Oscar Isaac

“Juggling so many different characters”

When his acolytes revive him millennia later in 1983, his megalomania still intact, it’s down to James McAvoy’s psychic Professor Charles Xavier and his allies – notably shape-shifting Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), mutant scientist Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) – to put a stop to his plans to wipe out most of humanity.

Unfortunately, Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg give themselves the task of juggling so many different characters – including ones whose personalities and attributes will only register with comic-book diehards – that the story fails to pick up the necessary pace to carry us through to the climactic showdown.

X-Men: Apocalypse Jennifer Lawrence

“The movie’s liveliest presence”

En route, there are notable missteps, the most egregious being the scene at Auschwitz where Apocalypse strives to recruit Michael Fassbender’s Magneto to his cause by reminding him of his losses in the Holocaust. If this weren’t offensive enough on its own, the movie then compounds the desecration by having Magneto destroy the camp in a fit of rage. When the dust has settled, Magneto’s larger role in the action turns out to be a repetition of the same friends-or-enemies dynamic with Xavier that we’ve seen in previous films.

Mischievous young mutant Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is the movie’s liveliest presence, but his standout scene – in which he jauntily zips around Xavier’s school rescuing the students from an explosion, accompanied by the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’, is basically reprise of the ‘Time in a Bottle’ episode in Days of Future Past and makes much less of an impact.

The film isn’t a total write-off. Fans will chuckle knowingly over the in-jokes and will no doubt whoop with delight when a favourite character makes an explosive cameo appearance. But with so many superhero movies currently cramming the calendar, X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t distinctive enough to stand out from the crowd.

Certificate 12 A. Runtime 144 mins. Director Bryan Singer