“X-Men: Apocalypse” looks weird. I mean that as the highest compliment, too, because for the first time ever, it looks like we’re getting an X-Men movie that plays to the established serious, grounded strength of the franchise while also diving into the weird end of X-Men. Just looking at the trailer, this is a film that seems proud to be a comic book superhero movie, and it doesn’t care who knows it.
This trailer has everything: ’80s hair, a blonde boy flying on metallic angel wings, spooky black eyeballs, a Tron hat, a sweeping vista of Ancient Egypt, religious overtones, mallrat mutants, three different blue people, shoulder pads, beat drops and more neon lights than Studio 54 in its prime. Does this at all feel like the same Bryan Singer that brought us the muted, steel-centric palettes of 2000’s “X-Men” and 2003’s “X2”? The shot composition is all Singer, but this first glimpse at “X-Men: Apocalypse” shows a filmmaker that seems to finally be ready to admit that he’s directing a superhero movie.
And that’s not to knock Bryan Singer’s previous X-Men work at all. Along with “Blade,” Singer’s “X-Men” helped convince the general public that superheroes weren’t strictly relegated to retro television and Joel Schumacher films. If Richard Donner proved superheroes could inspire and Tim Burton proved that they could be dark, then Singer proved they could be dramatic. He proved that they could be grounded, realistic and give real dramatic actors meaty roles to go all-in on. Those first two X-Men films changed the way the public saw superheroes by undoing a lot of the damage done by the excess and goofy eccentricity of the mid-’90s Batman films.
But Singer accomplished that by jettisoning a lot of the weird from the X-Men. He kept the mutant metaphor intact, yes, and he wisely pushed it to the forefront and explored it thoughtfully (specifically in 2003’s “X2”). But he ditched the colorful costumes for black leather, streamlined the continuity surrounding the team, focused on the most well-known and straightforward team members, stuck with a muted color palette and only used the most grounded of villains. Magneto and William Stryker are two of the most serious rogues in the X-Men’s gallery, and it seemed as if Singer would never go near some of the big ol’ weirdos the X-Men have been known to encounter. After seeing a film start off with a scene in a concentration camp, like 2000’s “X-Men,” it was pretty clear that you’d never see Sauron (a jorts-wearing were-Pteranodon) in a Bryan Singer movie.
The truth is, though, superheroes needed that public image work done to make them viable to a mass audience that associated crime-fighters with nipple-suits. Many believed “X-Men” would flop when it opened, but it cemented a change in the genre. That change led to, eight years later, Marvel Studios’ grounded take on “Iron Man,” a film that was very much rooted in the real world politics of the day. In fact, every Marvel movie has a kernel of that same self-seriousness in them that Singer made sure to infuse his X-Men movies with. Every Marvel Studios hero takes what they do seriously, and the movies all treat their characters with respect — yes, even if those characters are a Norse quasi-alien-god and a talking tree.
But the Marvel movies started to incorporate something that the X-Men films didn’t: they got weird. It’s hard to pinpoint when that happened; maybe when Marvel Studios realized they needed to make Asgard work in a shared universe that had so far been completely tech-based? But the Marvel movies gave us a Captain America costume that was patriotic and believable, justified the existence of the fantastical Asgard, dropped in numerous Easter eggs and shout outs to deep continuity, and — most importantly — made “Guardians of the Galaxy” work. They made a movie starring characters obscure to even longtime comic book readers into household heroes. They made audiences relate to a foul-mouthed raccoon. The Marvel Studios movies have proven that superhero movies can be many things at once, and they can embrace the absurdity of the source material with dignity.
So here we are at “X-Men: Apocalypse,” only the second X-Men film directed by Singer since the launch of the modern Marvel era in 2008. It looks like, with “Apocalypse,” we’re getting an evolved Bryan Singer, one that has seen where Marvel has succeeded and decided to give weirdness a go. Glimpses of Singer’s change were seen in 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” mainly because that film gave us Sentinel robots that were, just like in the comics, giant purple robots. Singer also embraced time travel with that movie, and added a totally ridiculous power to Kitty Pryde that she doesn’t even have in the comics. He out-weirded the source material! But “DOFP” was still grimy and gritty, most likely because it was set in the ’70s and owed a lot visually to thrillers of the era. Singer is cutting loose for “Apocalypse.”
The trailer is illuminated with neon lights, as electric greens, pinks, purples, blues and reds cover characters in ways we haven’t seen Singer use before. The best example of this is the Cerebro redesign, which looks like something you’d buy at a Spencer’s Gifts. This film features Storm with a Mohawk, a nod to a beloved look the character wore in the comics, and it features a totally comic-accurate Jubilee, one wearing a yellow jacket, pink sunglasses and hoop-earrings. This movie has Archangel in it, a guy with razor wings, and the trailer shows him shooting flechettes at the screen.
There’s no greater evidence of Singer’s new style and willingness to embrace beloved absurdity than Apocalypse himself. This is Apocalypse. He’s big, he’s blue, he’s got weird lips, tubes all over and his midsection even alludes to the giant “A” belt buckle he wears in the comics. In 15 years, Singer has gone from flat-out dissing comic costumes by making fun of “yellow spandex” to having a size-changing, funky-lipped, armor-wearing, immortal blue Egyptian as the titular villain of his movie. That’s some astonishing progress when it comes to embracing the very inherently comic book-y things that make the X-Men the X-Men.
Now, if only the X-Men can get out of those tactical jumpsuits and into something more colorful…
“X-Men: Apocalypse” is scheduled for release on May 27, 2016.
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