Bryan Singer takes hold of the X-Men reins once again for his fourth instalment in the franchise... X-Men Apocalypse, starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence.
When all-powerful ancient Egyptian mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), awakens from thousands of years in suspended animation and becomes hell-bent on eradicating the human race and the mutants who stand with them, Professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and School For Gifted Youngsters teacher Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) find their students becoming reluctant soldiers in order to save the world.
Accompanied by Raven (Lawrence), who is now regarded as a mutant hero after the events in Washington DC in X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Xavier and his team must fight to stop Apocalypse and his four super-skilled Horsemen: Angel, Storm, Psylocke and foe-turned-friend-turned foe again, Magneto (Fassbender) before it's too late.
Ah, we've been here before haven't we? And not just because this is the ninth outing in the ever-expanding X-Men universe. A bugbear for many X-Men fans over the years is that Magneto, regardless of how many antagonists they'd tried to use in the story, Magneto always ended up being the, sort of, bad guy. Sadly, X-Men: Apocalypse also falls back on that trope.
Considering his seemingly unlimited power, it's a wonder why Apocalypse even needs his four Horsemen to carry out his evil bidding and doesn't just take care of things alone. This would have avoided Magneto's involvement but they were present in the comics so they're here now. Something that isn't so passable however is how evident it is to see that as the film reaches its three-quarters-way-through mark that, yet again, the instalment's villain is forced to come in secondary behind Fassbender's Magneto. This pattern goes back to Sir Ian McKellen's portrayal of the morally-questionable metal-manipulator in the franchise's original trilogy and certainly happened in Singer's former movie Days Of Future Past in regards to Peter Dinklage's Bolivar Trask.
In fact, the whole idea of treading the same ground is the only real downfall of X-Men: Apocalypse and in truth, it's a shame given just how wonderfully rich and interesting each of this franchise's characters are. There's a wealth of them here too, with first-class characters such as Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) and Alex Summers (Lucas Till) showing their faces again.
Luckily, where the plot lacks, the characters [and actors who play them] continue to not only save the world but brilliantly save the movie. So much so, that the screenplay becomes an afterthought to the thrills presented on screen.
Newcomers to the franchise Sophie Turner, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Tye Sheridan shine, adding some youthful energy to their respective well-loved characters Jean Grey, Nightcrawler and Cyclops, who had become a bit stale in previous films. Turner in particular excels, bringing a tortured humanity to Jean's intense emotional connection to Charles Xavier in several scenes, including a mind-bending stand-out one in the movie's final battle, and Wolverine, who appears for a satisfying yet fleeting cameo.
The fresh faces aren't the only ones to marvel at either. Fan favourite Quicksilver (Evan Peters) threatens to steal the show yet again with a, you guessed it, brilliantly choreographed slow-motion sequence which provides the film with both humour and action. Lawrence too continues to add depth and inner turmoil to her Raven, even if she doesn't have too much to say in this instalment. Much like Lawrence's most famous character, Katniss Everdeen, Raven has been labelled a hero here and is struggling with the responsibilities of being such a face of justice and Lawrence is more than capable of pulling off such feeling.
Fassbender and McAvoy are equally impressive; the former embodying his angsty mutant, still battling the feeling of being lost in the world, and the other hopeful to the core and sure that the two of them can do some good when learning from everything that they've been through.
However, in the quite literal blue corner, the baddies are far less engaging, with Oscar Isaac's Apocalypse acting as much more of a puppetmaster for his practically voiceless ventriloquist dummies than as an inspiring, yet corrupt, leader. Credit where it's due, his four Horsemen look truly fantastic in costume but do little else than stand around in model-pose as Apocalypse threatens to "cleanse" the world to anyone who will give him the time of day, basically. Sure they had time to erect marble statues of themselves but haven't actually done any wrong doing? Priorities, people!
Unfortunately, not every member of the Horsemen is awarded the depth of Alexandra Shipp's Storm, who not only faithfully stems from Cairo just like in the comics here, but whose involvement and relationship with Apocalypse is best explained.
As fans of the X-Men know, Storm has always been a hero in both the source material and the movies, so her ultimate fate is already clear, so how come she is operating as a baddie now? And more interestingly, what turns her on to a more righteous path? For all of X-Men: Apocalypse's minor flaws, it certainly provides answers to those questions and can't help but excite viewers as to what's to come for the white-haired weather woman.
Regardless of its small trip-ups, X-Men: Apocalypse succeeds in finding its own unique groove alongside this year's many superhero blockbusters. While Captain America: Civil War was more of an action-packed thrill-ride steeped in emotion and Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice was tarred by the "style over substance" brush, it presents an arguably more fun and purely excitable picture than the aforementioned outings. Next time though, we pray they come up with a different beat and put the Charles/Erik bromance on the backburner...