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Movie review: Newest ‘X-Men’ rises above superhero pack

Olivia Munn is Betsy Braddock/Psylocke in “X-Men: Apocalypse.”
Olivia Munn is Betsy Braddock/Psylocke in “X-Men: Apocalypse.” Courtesy

It seems like there are more superheroes in “X-Men: Apocalypse” than there are stars in the sky. In a movie year already clogged with superhero movies — “Deadpool,” “Batman v Superman,” “Captain America: Civil War” — one wonders: Have we reached the point of oversaturation?

Yeah … maybe …

No. Not yet.

Not when “X-Men: Apocalypse” melds its many, many characters into a relatively straightforward and easily comprehensible narrative, serves up truly epic set-piece scenes and, best of all, is blessed with some genuinely top-notch performances.

Following up on 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” and 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Apocalypse” is once again a story of the younger “X” cast — principally James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier/Professor X, Michael Fassbender’s Erik Lensherr/Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven/Mystique and Nicholas Hoult’s Hank McCoy/Beast — involved in a battle with the meanest, and oldest, Marvel mutant they’ve ever come across. That would be En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse of the title.

Played by Oscar Isaac with harsh authority, he’s a baddie with a god complex who’s been around for millennia, and makes a strong case for his claim that he is, in fact a god, who has been worshiped by many names — “Ra, Krishna, Yahweh” — throughout the ages.

He’s got powers (mind-reading, telekinesis, among others), and he’s got a great big chip on his shoulder when he reanimates after having been entombed in an Egyptian pyramid for 5,000 years. He discovers he’s been forgotten and that humanity has gone badly astray. You know, with wars, and TV and the Internet and general frivolity. Time for a great cleansing, thinks he. And to help him with the cleanup, he needs some assistants. Mutants would fit the bill, mutants like, above all, Magneto.

Fassbender proves yet again that he’s the best thing in these later-model “X” movies. His Magneto is a deeply torn individual, a psychologically scarred Auschwitz survivor, angry at the discrimination mutants face from unmutated humans, yet still persuadable that mutants can co-exist and help flawed humanity. His old friend, the ever-optimistic Professor X, is the main persuader.

In “Apocalypse,” Magneto has tried to fit in with ordinary people, concealing his identity and starting a family in Poland, but his family is killed and his rage makes him amenable to Apocalypse’s overtures to rid the world of imperfect humans.

Bryan Singer, who has been in the director’s chair for four “X” movies now, knows and understands these characters intimately and how to rock the screen with those expansive set-pieces. The entombment of Apocalypse, an attack on Xavier’s school for gifted mutant kids and the climactic battle royal in which it is mutant versus mutant and all competing super powers are on pyrotechnic display are wow-inducing rousers.

There’s some humor here too, thanks largely to the presence of the super speedy Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a somewhat snarky young fellow hooked on video games and still living in his mom’s basement.

Call this one Apocalypse Wow.

X-Men: Apocalypse

out of 5

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender. Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Evan Peters.

Director: Bryan Singer.

Running time: 2:27.

Rated: PG-13, for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images.

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