For a lot of X-Men fans, today feels like a celebration — the first real, pure and true victory for the franchise in a while. Why is that? We’ve gotten our first official look at “X-Men: Apocalypse” via an Entertainment Weekly cover and a few stills and — holy wow — it looks like an X-Men movie.
I’m a massive X-Men fan. They are why I started reading comics, and they remain one of the few pieces of pop culture that I have enjoyed continuously for 22 years. I’ve written about how disappointed I’ve been with the X-Men’s film franchise a lot in the past, saying “it’s time for a real X-Men movie,” that “Days of Future Past’s” trailer had big problems and that promotional images made me feel both hope and worry. I love almost all of the X-Men films, but that hasn’t stopped me from criticizing them from focusing strictly on the old white guys (Magneto, Professor X, Wolverine) and their insistence on keeping the comic book source material at arm’s length. But, judging by the first photos from 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” Fox and director Bryan Singer’s franchise seems to have finally — finally — mutated into the big screen version of the X-Men that fans have been waiting to see.
“X-Men: Apocalypse” looks like it could be the best X-Men movie to date, and here’s why.
I’m going to get the big one out of the way first: this is an X-Men movie with actual X-Men in it. No offense to the kids of “First Class” or the future team in “Days of Future Past,” but it’s been a decade since fans got to see A-List X-Men front and center in an X-Men movie. 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” focused almost exclusively on Professor X, Magneto and Mystique — three characters that are big deal X-Men, for sure, but the rest of the cast was filled with second stringers that either bore little resemblance to their comic counterparts (Havok, Banshee) or were killed/turned traitor (Darwin, Angel Salvadore). While a ton of name X-Men popped up in “Days of Future Past” (Storm, Colossus, Iceman, Kitty Pryde), all of them were relegated to supporting roles in the future portion of the film.
But now that the flashback trilogy started with the ’60s-set “First Class” has reached the ’80s, the decade wherein all the mutants introduced in Singer’s first X-Men films were teens, we get to see the big names return to the spotlight. Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler — these characters are part of the core of fifty years of X-Men stories, and they are all finally back on the big screen. “Apocalypse” also throws in other essential X-Men like Jubilee, Psylocke and Angel into the mix, apparently because this movie loves us.
The X-Men films have had a serious villain problem ever since 2003’s “X2.” The bad guys we’ve seen have been based on minor comic characters (William Stryker, changed from a reverend to a colonel), altered almost beyond recognition (Shinobi Shaw), reduced to bit players (Juggernaut) or just plain mishandled (Emma Frost). “Days of Future Past” shoved the franchise on track by giving fans the Sentinels, a major threat realized with a surprising degree of comic accuracy (they were big purple robots!). With its titular villain, “Apocalypse” gives us the first big deal villain since “X-Men’s” Magneto way back in 2000.
Apocalypse is a major, major get for the X-Men film franchise. He’s arguably the second most important villain in the comics after Magneto, and dude’s got a whole epic, beloved event named after him (“Age of Apocalypse”). He also represents a natural rising of stakes for the franchise; Apocalypse is a couple thousand years old, and has a Darwinian philosophy that’s unlike anything we’ve seen addressed in the X-movies. This isn’t another human that hates mutants (we’ve seen plenty of those); this is a mutant that wants to destroy pretty much everything — and has the powers to back it up.
Comic Book Costumes
Staying on the Apocalypse tip, did you notice how unmistakably blue he is? He’s blue! And he has ridiculously huge shoulder pads! And he has cables running all over his body! And, if you look closely, he even has what looks like a big “A” on his midsection! Apocalypse’s comic book design is not subtle and it has a lot going on; the “Apocalypse” costume designers apparently just said “screw it” and decided to go for it with full commitment. He’s not a guy in a suit and tie, he’s not wearing head to toe black and, most surprisingly, he’s not a CG creature. That’s Oscar Isaac wearing an actual Apocalypse costume — one that you could actually identify as his comic book counterpart.
And he’s not the only one sporting comic-accurate duds. Olivia Munn’s Psylocke is a Jim Lee drawing come to life. Storm has a mohawk. Guys, Storm has a mohawk. Storm has a mohawk and a cape and a costume that looks to be in line with her mid-’00s look. In addition to that trio, we know that Jubilee’s costume consists of mall-babe appropriate pink sunglasses, denim shorts and yellow jacket. Bryan Singer has also hinted that actual superhero costumes could be in the cards for the rest of the team.
This represents the franchise coming full circle. 2000’s “X-Men” notoriously contained a dig at the characters’ comic book suits: “What would you prefer, yellow spandex?” And then something happened in 2008: Marvel Studios came along and proved that you can create movie-ready versions of comic book costumes. The X-Men franchise didn’t get that note; the team wore flight suits in “First Class” and a mix of street clothes and bleak, black suits in “Days of Future Past.” It might be because the movie is set in the gleefully garish ’80s, or it might be because they couldn’t figure out another way to make black leather jumpsuits look interesting, but it looks like these X-Men are going to look like X-Men.
This one could be a downer for a lot of X-Men fans. To them I say, go watch literally any other mutant movie. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is one of the best onscreen superheroes of all time, no question; that’s why Fox has put him at the forefront of six movies to the detriment of every other X-Man. Cyclops and Jean’s romance got bulldozed by Logan, Wolverine got Kitty Pryde’s part in “Days of Future Past” and even the “Dark Phoenix Saga” focused on the clawed guy’s man-pain. Wolverine’s great, Jackman’s great, but so are all the other X-Men. We know that a Wolverine-less “X-Men” film can work; we saw that in “First Class,” which got by with just having Jackman in for a cameo.
As of now, we don’t know for sure whether or not Jackman is in “Apocalypse.” He hasn’t been announced, and Singer has made coy comments about it; we do know that “Wolverine 3” is supposedly Jackman’s last go as Logan. But even if he does have a part in the film, it most likely can’t be more than a cameo or supporting role considering how much we know about the film already, and none of it involves Wolverine. That’s a good thing.
Character Course Correction
The lack of Wolverine means we get to spend time with other mutants that were previously misused. Jubilee and Psylocke appeared in the original trilogy of X-Men films, but in blink-and-you-miss-’em cameos; Psylocke was actually killed in “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Cyclops, the guy that’s basically Mr. X-Men, was written out of huge chunks of “X2” and “Last Stand.” It’s not far-fetched to think that Tye Sheridan could get more screentime as the character in “Apocalypse” than James Marsden got in all his appearances. Fans didn’t really respond to Ben Foster’s Angel in “Last Stand,” as he was yet another new mutant added into a crowded cast. At least this time around Ben Hardy will get to play Archangel, a popular iteration of the character.
But none of those returning, hopefully reinvigorated characters come close to Nightcrawler. Alan Cumming was great as Kurt Wagner in “X2,” but that film focused almost solely on the character’s faith and never once allowed him to be the swashbuckling charmer that makes his character stand out amongst his teammates. The Nightcrawler write-up featured in “Entertainment Weekly” says that he becomes a “source of comic relief.” Comic relief! While it’s a shame that the effortlessly charismatic Cumming never got a chance to cut up as Kurt, I’m relieved to know that Kodi Smit-McPhee will. “Apocalypse” is no doubt going to get dark, but at least there will be Nightcrawler — and hopefully some colorful costumes — to lighten things up.