X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (12A) 144 mins. Stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner and Evan Peters.

TOO many kooks spoil the broth of director Bryan Singer's fourth tour of duty with the Marvel Comics mutants, which began in 2000 with X-Men.

Simon Kinberg's messy script bursts at the seams with tortured characters and subplots vying for our attention, bloating the running time to close to two and a half hours.

It's a physical ordeal for us, but too little time for X-Men: Apocalypse to do justice to a menagerie of gifted misfits on both sides of a conflict that reduces several capital cities to rubble.

There is dramatic fat that could be trimmed: a blood-spattered interlude involving a face from the past - codenamed Weapon X - is superfluous and the final showdown is played out simultaneously in the real world and inside the connected minds of telepaths.

The arch-villain is omnipotent - he slaughters an entire factory of workmen with a casual swipe of his hand - and could conceivably destroy mankind without breaking computer-generated sweat.

Instead, this otherworldly tyrant chooses to waste precious time recruiting less powerful mutants to do his bidding and consequently undermines his nefarious plan to wipe clean the evolutionary slate.

Ten years have passed since the cataclysmic events of X-Men: Days Of Future Past, which saw Logan (Hugh Jackman) travel back in time to 1973 to make contact with the young Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and neutralise the Sentinel program of killer robots.

It's now the early 1980s and the very first mutant, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), reawakens after thousands of years of inactivity.

He is disgusted by the pitiful state of mankind and resolves to create a new world order with the help of his four devoted horsemen of the apocalypse: Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Magneto.

Professor X and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) vow to protect mankind and they assemble a team of young X-Men to avert armageddon including Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Havok (Lucas Till) and his younger brother Cyclops (Tye Sheridan).

X-Men: Apocalypse doesn't settle long enough on one narrative thread to generate dramatic momentum or suspense.

Turner and Sheridan make the biggest impact, capturing the inner turmoil of teenagers unable to control their unique and potentially devastating powers.

Apart from one rallying cry, Lawrence is surplus to requirements, while McAvoy stares teary-eyed into the camera as his romantic subplot with CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) is resuscitated.

Special effects have improved in superhuman leaps since Singer's first foray into this universe.

He blitzkriegs the screen with eye-popping digital trickery, guaranteeing a relentless assault on the eyes - especially in 3D - which is just as likely to induce a headache as awe and wonder.