Filmmaker Bryan Singer, who has spent practically half of his career directing “X-Men” movies, recently said the “grounded and serious” world of his mutant films may not mesh with the irreverent and comic tone of fellow 20th Century Fox mutant flick “Deadpool.” That’s unfortunate for him as Singer would do well to take notes from the spirit of Tim Miller’s roguish and streamlined movie, the pleasures of which are largely absent from Singer’s latest bloated and self-serious mutant misadventure, “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

Yet another overwrought superhero movie with global stakes, Singer effectively remakes his first “X-Men” movie, which launched Hollywood’s ongoing superhero craze in 2000. This sixth proper X-Men film, Singer’s fourth as director, concludes a loose trilogy that began with Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class” in 2011. It also offers new versions of classic characters Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, Angel and Nightcrawler, and pulls in Oscar Isaac to debut a big-screen version of Apocalypse, the first mutant, who seeks to destroy what he sees as a weak society. Taking visual cues from the ’90s television cartoon and some key comic book issues, the 1983-set “X-Men: Apocalypse” is garish and unevenly paced, with a heavy reliance on fan-service (notably via an awkwardly-added Wolverine) and outdated mass-destruction tropes. The turgid world-endangering plot gives many new characters short shrift even as it points forward to yet another sequel, offering little reason to believe any of the loud action truly matters.

X-Men: Apocalypse Olivia MunnBy the end of 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” Singer and screenwriter/producer Simon Kinberg had created a 1970s America in which mutants are known and at times even accepted. It was a pretty good place compared to how mutants were treated by society in nearly every other X-Men story. That fragile peace doesn’t last, however, as a new threat rises: ancient Egyptian mutant En Sabah Nur (Isaac), who has prolonged his life and power by transferring his consciousness into new mutant bodies every few decades. Once elevated as a god over the people of Egypt before being trapped in his own pyramid, the reawakened first-gen mutant is repelled by the rule of humans, and sets out to violently remake the world in his own image.

Before the problems really start, Singer and Kinberg lazily stroll through this alternate 1983 with myriad storylines and subplots, many of which don’t amount to much. They’re also mostly just narrative excuses to reconnect characters to engineer a climactic showdown. CIA officer Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne) digs into En Sabah Nur’s old ruins in Cairo, drawing the attention of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), who also happens to be dealing with two very powerful new students: Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), who is coming to terms with his powerful optic blasts, and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), whose telepathic abilities are troublingly potent. Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) then turns up on Xavier’s doorstep with Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit McPhee), looking to warn everyone about a tragedy that has befallen an old mutant ally.

X-Men Apocalypse Oscar Isaac Jennifer LawrenceMeanwhile, En Sabah Nur (never actually referenced as Apocalypse) is recruiting emotionally vulnerable mutants as bodyguards and enforcers. There’s the impoverished street thief Storm (Alexandra Shipp); Psylocke (Olivia Munn), working a sword-wielding security detail in Berlin’s mutant underground; the winged Angel (Ben Hardy), forced to battle in a mutant fight club for human entertainment; and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), now married with a daughter and living under the cover of a pseudonym in remote Poland. His family storyline is uncharacteristically affecting, and the only subplot of any real emotional substance in the movie.

All this rather distended setup is meant to service core ideas about mutant powers being a blessing and curse, and the notion, as we’ve seen in the ongoing frenemy relationship between these versions of Xavier and Magneto, that even the most powerful can be vulnerable when their actions isolate them from potential allies.

Bryan Singer Responds On 'X-Men' Trailer Backlash, Plus New 'Apocalypse' Photos' 14While a well-intentioned idea, ‘Apocalypse’ spends so little time delivering meaningful action, the story still feels flimsy and ineffective. Real talk between characters is rare, with the mutants all speaking in aphorisms and monologues, like they’re perpetually campaigning in an election. Singer attempts to add dramatic heft to these lines by slowly pushing into close-up as Important Ideas are uttered, but you’d care a lot more if the film convinced you that their fates might truly turn on any event.

A few encounters work quite well, such as a pivotal moment in Magneto’s life in Poland, and the early stages of Scott and Jean’s time at Xavier’s mansion. Xavier’s own romantic interest in Moira Mactaggart, while slightly creepy (because he wiped her memory at the end of ‘First Class’) is nevertheless a moment of bright, genuine humanity in this very didactic story. Of the new and revised characters only Jean Grey is even close to being fully realized, though Nightcrawler’s teleportation power is so convenient as an plot escape hatch that he gets plenty of screen time. Storm, Angel and Psylocke spend most of the movie posing as if trapped in a bizarre fashion photo spread, while Jubilee (Lana Condor) never displays a glimmer of power.

Bryan Singer Responds On 'X-Men' Trailer Backlash, Plus New 'Apocalypse' Photos' 3Most frustrating is En Sabah Nur. Oscar Isaac does stronger work than many actors might manage with the character’s heavy make-up and grandly overblown dialogue. Still, he struggles. The figure resists transformation into a living, breathing entity. We know what the villain wants, at least, because he repeats it at every opportunity. Yet his essence is out of reach. Aloofness is to be expected from an aspiring god, but we spend so much time with the guy that his one-note schtick wears thin. Furthermore, the character is so powerful he could literally turn the X-Men to dust with a squint. Even with the idea that he prioritizes mutant life more highly than human, his failure to disintegrate Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Cyclops and Mystique in battle never makes a lick of sense.

In the middle of the action the film pauses for a lengthy sequence wrapped around an appearance by Wolverine, with Hugh Jackman once again reprising his role. At best, it will please fans who want to see a more violent Wolverine, particularly (and this could be a slight spoiler for some) those who are also fans of comics issues where Barry Windsor-Smith handled art duties.

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“X-Men: Apocalypse” also has a mass and velocity problem in its action. With multiple players who leap, fly, and hover, the VFX team must craft the illusion of gravity’s tether. More often than not, this fails. A big action sequence crafted around Quicksilver (Evan Peters, one of the film’s brightest spots) is obviously meant to bookend his big slow-mo scene in ‘Days of Future Past.’ The setup here is cute, set to The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” but the action is ungainly and pasted-together, with the hero and other subjects rarely appearing to be in the same space.

The film’s unappealing aesthetic is at least consistent with Singer’s other “X-Men” films, yet ‘Apocalypse’ looks cruddier than ever. A major battle in a ravaged city calls to mind Dolly Parton‘s old joke, “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” Flashbacks to Matthew Vaughn‘s ‘First Class’ only underline the difficulty ‘Apocalypse’ encounters when trying to craft compelling spaces. Singer spends a great deal of time asking us to stare, in horror, at visions of our world being ground into actual streams of dust as a tired “world engine” plot device unfolds. The concept is beyond threadbare. Whatever qualities, emotional or otherwise, that might lend power and terror to images of global destruction are crucially missing here.

MIchael Fassbender X-Men: ApocalypseThe “X-Men” series has truly begun to churn as it comes full circle to characters introduced sixteen years ago. In superficial terms, these visions of classic X-Men are “better,” in that they appear much more like their comic book counterparts, but as heroes able to command any emotional connection they are far inferior. The grand X-Men soap opera has often created compelling allegories to help comic readers and film audiences make sense of their own sense of alienation and separation, whatever the underlying reasons might be. However, ‘Apocalypse’ feels like a cog in Fox’s perpetual-motion blockbuster machine, paying lip service to the story’s allegorical potential as it grinds our interest to dust. [C-]