The world – and let's face it, the United States -- has needed a lot of saving in the last decade and a half. The country is divided, the economy is divided, a bright future for all comers looks far from certain these days.
Everywhere that people look now they see increasing challenges and complexities, so is it any wonder that our multiplexes are filled with awesome superheroes in figure hugging spandex come to save the day?
The public wants simple answers to complex problems. They want caped crusaders they can believe in to sort out the unholy mess. If Hollywood has learned anything in its 100 years it's how to spin money out of human anxiety.
Since 2000, when the long running X-Men superhero franchise first hit the big screen, it's been a box office bonanza and sometimes a significant critical hit too. This Friday, May 27, the latest chapter in the franchise, X-Men: Apocalypse, opens.
The film has been well named, because watching it you feel like even our sainted superheroes are losing their mojo now. After a decade and a half of saving the world it's apparent that a certain exhaustion is creeping in. They could have named it X-Men: You've Seen it All Before.
More to the point, superhero films are also starting to look like Boot Hill for America's acting talent, the place where gifted actors go to die. Ask yourself, how long has it been since Chris Evans, a charming and accomplished actor, or the gifted Robert Downey Jr. have appeared in a film where they didn't have to carry a shield or wear a helmet?
It seems like we slept-walked into a whole new era of big budget action hero filmmaking without thinking what our enthusiasms would do to the industry and the talent that makes it run. Watching the appropriately named X-Men: Apocalypse, it occurred to me that perhaps it's past time to start having that discussion.
X-Men, as you know, are mutants, weirdos and misfits, but crucially they're also prodigiously gifted. Each one has a super power that makes them helpful to turn to when the world's in another scrape.
The brilliant Professor X, played by James McAvoy, has the foresight to assemble them in a school where they can learn to work together for the good of each other and humanity. It's a place of learning but it's also a refuge, because we know the outside world is far from welcoming of them.
Ireland's Michael Fassbender, for my money the most gifted male screen actor of his generation, plays the most powerful X-Man of all, Magneto. His superpower is his ability to manipulate metal with his mind, and his capacity to do so is limitless.
Onscreen, Fassbender actually makes it look possible that he can lift supertankers, warp bridges or bring down buildings with just an arch of his eyebrow because that's how skilled he is. But even the most gifted film actor in the world is no match for an under cooked script or a half-baked storyline.
So it proves with X-Men: Apocalypse. Director Bryan Singer, who kicked off the whole X-Men franchise in 2000 with the first film in the long running saga, has returned for a fourth time to helm this utterly unconvincing tale of the original X-Men crew going to battle against the world's first ever mutant.
Fassbender's talent is criminally wasted on dialogue that feels clichéd even as it’s being spoken, and action set pieces that we've seen a hundred times before in better films. As X-Men: Apocalypse opens Fassbender's Magneto has sworn off superhero adventures for a simple life in Poland working for a -- wouldn't you know it -- steel mining operation.
No sooner do we find out where he is but we learn that his rustic paradise is under threat from forces that are outside his control. Now living with a wife and young daughter, he is hounded by the locals when they discover his real identity. Former friends become his enemies in an instant.
Fassbender, 39, who was raised in Co. Kerry, struggles valiantly to make something half convincing out of this thin material. But the truth is when Singer's script is not letting him down, Singer's direction is capsizing him.
X-Men: Apocalypse lacks chemistry between the characters, the story lacks any emotional core, and for a superhero flick it's conspicuously lacking in fun too.
The cast, which includes Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence and Sophie Turner, look like they're carrying the fate of the world on their shoulders and would gladly shrug it off. I'll be startled if they sign up for another go-round after this lackluster outing.
Even the film's design prompted chuckles from the audience of hard-bitten film critics at a screening in Manhattan last week. When actor Ben Hardy's character Angel gets an upgrade courtesy of the film's biggest bad guy named Apocalypse, he trades bird feathers for steel wings and ends up looking like an outtake from Spinal Tap.
As someone who has enjoyed some of the previous outings of this franchise, it feels as if the latest version has lost the courage of its own convictions. What previously set the X-Men apart was their weirdness, their outcast's ability to see something that others miss.
But in X-Men: Apocalypse every cliché about being different is back in play. When a teenage Cyclops starts coming into his mutant power in high school, he is immediately targeted by a frat boy bully in a football jacket. The bully asks what's wrong with his eyes, and who exactly is he staring at, his girl?
Pursuing him into the restroom the bully shouts: “Are you crying already? But I haven't even started to kick your ass...”
We've seen this scene or some version just like it in every teen film made in the last 50 years. Let's face it, it was cliché when our parents were kids. So it's extremely disappointing to see moments this utterly uninspired in a film made in 2016.
As it becomes increasingly clear that X-Men: Apocalypse is going nowhere, slowly, even Fassbender's dependable character work can't save it. As a boy Erik M. Lehnsherr (Fassbender) has witnessed horrors at Auschwitz, including the murder of his family. X-Men: Apocalypse takes us back to that ghastly Nazi concentration camp for another cheap plot point in the film.
Please don't go to Auschwitz, I found myself thinking, because it was a high-water mark of human evil, and I really don't want to see it used as a plot device in a superhero movie this bad. Unfortunately they do, and it is.
And this was the moment when X-Men: Apocalypse lost me for good. If you're going to draw parallels between myth and reality then it behooves you to make sure the myth can sustain the weight.
But X-Men: Apocalypse runs out of gas halfway through its spectacular and utterly pointless opening and it never picks up again.
We never learn how the bad guy character Apocalypse really comes by his power, we never learn who the other mutants are who help him in ancient Egypt. And if the director and the writer don't care to explain it, then why should we?
By the time this lumbering, doltish flick runs its course it has done more than just fail to entertain. It reminds us that there was a time when the people of the U.S. did their own rescuing.
In this insane political season we're living though, perhaps it's time to recall that fact and stop looking to dreams and superheroes to save us.