Putting everything at risk is Oscar Isaac's En Sabah Nur, popularly known as Apocalypse. Introduced in an epilogue to Days of Future Past as the single-handed constructor of the Pyramids millennia ago, X-Men: Apocalypse gives him the prologue this time. As the aging ruler of ancient Egypt, a ritual transferring his consciousness into a new, super-healing equipped body is interrupted by rebels, and Apocalypse is entombed til the present day. Upon awaking, he is disgusted with how much power the non-mutants have amassed for themselves and in supervillain fashion, aims to rule the world himself. He recruits more new characters to serve as his Four Horsemen, one of which is Erik after his family suffers a tragedy, and embarks on a campaign of large-scale destruction and world monument obliteration that would impress Roland Emmerich.
What the bloated cast list leads to is few of the new characters making much of an impression. For an actor of his quality, Isaac is undifferentiated from a dozen other megalomaniacal bad guys. He carries himself with the casual cruelty of a being possessed of unclear and vast power, but he's diminished under layers of makeup and prosthetics and effects that alter his voice. Further reducing his character are the transference and awakening rituals that bring him to the present day, both of which are sloppy magic that Singer hand waves away, especially the awakening ritual conducted by unnamed followers who don't get a line before or after performing it. His henchmen are largely unnoticed eye candy, with the exception being the ridiculous outfit that Olivia Munn's Psylocke is forced to wear. The teens, well-cast up-and-comers with impressive resumes, are also unable to move the needle despite the large role they will likely take in the next X-Men film. That future project will likely have to take a redundant turn and reintroduce characters that lack all the spark that X-Men: First Class had in introducing its leads.
Those leads remain the grounding factors in X-Men: Apocalypse, but the strain is starting to show. The friendship and connection between this version of Xavier and Erik is still the most powerful recurring theme in the entire franchise history, but the events of their latest excursion strain its credulity. Fassbender is unsurprisingly strong as he unleashes Erik's barely-contained rage and pain after a life of abuse and misfortune, but he plays an integral, and willing, role in all the lives that Apocalypse takes, ripping cities apart from thousands of miles away. A death count to rival history's greatest genocidal maniacs might mean that the friendship is broken. Meanwhile, Lawrence, a central figure in Days of Future Past, is far downsized here, serving as vague inspiration with minimal impact on the plot. Without these three holding down the film and making it emotionally resonant in spite of the fantastic nature of the action, X-Men: Apocalypse leaves the ground as surely as the debris from the Sydney Opera House is lifted into the atmosphere, courtesy of Erik.
This is Singer's fourth X-Men film, and with that track record and a nine-figure budget, it's not like he's going to make a bad-looking film. There are expository lulls in the action, but set pieces keep the film moving efficiently. The opener is a near-wordless effects extravaganza, and Days of Future Past breakout star Quicksilver (Evan Peters) again uses his super-speed in a centerpiece scene, scored to another era-appropriate pop song. With flashes of the old appeal, X-Men: Apocalypse is nothing if not easy-to-swallow, especially if the viewer mostly enjoys spending in this world, as I do. However, even with a baseline of appreciation, Singer still manages to lose me to series bloat and fan service, things that could have been avoided if series regenerator Matthew Vaughn had anything to do with this entry. The maker of tongue-in-cheek action films that have a sense of genre history, Vaughn might've excised a wholly unnecessary sidetrip to check in on Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) or bring more coherence and scale to the climactic showdown.
The extravagance and world-ending stakes of X-Men: Apocalypse stand in sharp relief to the critical and commercial success of non-team based X-Men movies like Deadpool and Logan. Where the protagonist goals in those two films are, respectively, finding a cure and saving the life of a single girl, this film contains hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people being killed, with millions more at stake. Deadpool and Logan both have eclipsed Apocalypse's box-office total, so hopefully, future team-up X-Men films recognize that audiences may be getting wise to astronomic death tolls and city destruction. If the Taj Mahal gets destroyed in the next one, the X-Men franchise might find themselves looking up at DC in the superhero studio ladder. C-