It's finally here – the trailer for [X-Men: Apocalypse](tag:1194267) was released today. First, I'll be honest: I've not always been an unreserved fan of Fox's #XMen movies. I grew up on the comics, and to me those films have often lacked the familiar characters and concepts I love. But now, for the first time in quite a while, I'm watching an X-Men trailer and thinking one word:
In case you've missed it, here's the trailer!
Now that you've indulged in the wonder and excitement that is the X-Men: Apocalypse trailer, let's move on to the analysis...
First thing's first, the design of Oscar Isaac's #Apocalypse is absolutely tremendous. When Empire Magazine got hold of pre-CGI images of Apocalypse earlier this year, the fans were appalled. Fox had a social media storm on their hands, and the most common criticism was that the villain looked somewhat like Ivan Ooze.
The question has to be, did Fox change the look of Apocalypse? Or is it simply the case that we were being too quick to judge?
Let's be clear, there are really only two things that have changed. Apocalypse's hue is notably different – but the same dark blue hue affects the entire trailer, suggesting a filter has been added to the recordings. That's why the pre-CGI (pre-filter) Apocalypse is such a strange shade of purple. I seriously doubt that such a change wasn't planned from the get-go.
The other change is that, throughout the trailer, we see a hint of facial markings that look very similar to Apocalypse's look in the comics. There, perhaps, there's been a subtle change, but I doubt that it's been too significant.
Sorry, fans, but I think regarding Apocalypse's look – Fox knew what they were doing all along.
The above is another scene, incidentally, that should leave comic book fans reeling; for all that they've added some new powers (more on that later), the Apocalypse of Fox's films has the ability to manipulate his size and shape. I'll be suggesting throughout this post that this Fox movie is far more honoring of the source material than most previous Fox efforts; this is one key moment that proves the point. In fact, given recent info about Deadpool and New Mutants, it's possible Fox has turned over a new leaf.
The dual meaning of the word 'Apocalypse'
The trailer opens with Sophie Turner's #JeanGrey having visions of "the end of the world." Let's face it, that's how most of us interpret the word 'apocalypse' – a devastating, destructive event that brings about the end of civilization. That's clearly meant to be our primary lens for interpreting this movie; that here, the X-Men will face a crisis on a different scale to anything they have faced before. Later in the trailer, Apocalypse clearly identifies his goal:
"From the ashes of this world... we'll build a better one!"
So Apocalypse gathers an army to himself; and he is declared (in a scene where he's gained control over Magneto) to have the ability to control any mutant. Ironically, this is one threat that the X-Men would seem to be poorly suited against! Interestingly enough, he actually had this power in Marvel's Ultimate X-Men; the Ultimate range were a modern-day relaunch of Marvel's classic books, imagining a new continuity and, in Apocalypse's case, some new abilities.
But there is actually another meaning to the word 'apocalypse.' In ancient times, 'apocalyptic' literature was a form of writing that usually claimed to be inspired by a vision, given by God. These apocalypses used a tremendous wealth of symbolism and imagery to foretell the 'End Times,' the 'end of the world.' Their concern was usually with how justice would eventually triumph, how good would prevail over evil, but at a terrible cost. The biblical book of Revelation is pretty much the only piece of apocalyptic literature that's well-known today; and because the literary form is so unknown to modern-day readers, many Christians struggle to interpret it, and there have been some seriously off-the-wall interpretations.
The movie's opening scene – with Jean glimpsing the end of the world in a vision, perhaps granted it by Apocalypse – shows a deeper understanding of the concept of 'apocalypse' than, frankly, most of the comics have ever portrayed.
I like the choice of Jean as the seer, rather than James McAvoy's Charles #Xavier; one of Apocalypse's key frustrations seems to be that he feels the mutants are following "blind leaders," with Xavier and Magneto being those two leaders. So it makes sense that he would pass over Xavier. What's more, although the continuity has been wiped out, X-Men: The Last Stand clearly established Jean as far more powerful than Xavier in the movies, and Apocalypse's sense of grandeur would naturally choose him to approach the most powerful psionic in the world.
However, before we celebrate too much, I do have to note that Jean's vision differs from a typical apocalypse in one key way. She sees death; but she doesn't glimpse the new world that Apocalypse is trying to build. Nowhere in this movie are we given a glimpse of the world that Apocalypse desires to come into being as a result of all this; instead, we just see the havoc that he will wreak along the way. For all that Apocalypse claims to be a visionary, he is clearly blinkered, identifying himself more by what he is against – humanity – than by what he is for – creating a new world order.
I'm intrigued by the scenes Jean glimpses, not least the nuclear explosion. By the 2000s, we've become inured to the concept of nuclear war; we have a vague sense that the world has continued without such a conflict developing, and we don't stress about it that much. During the 1980s, when this movie is set, the fear of nuclear war was still a very strong force. It makes sense that such a nuclear explosion would be associated with the apocalypse.
But what exactly has been hidden across the ages? Both Apocalypse and Rose Byrne's Moira MacTaggert explain it to us:
First of all, let me say that it's a real pleasure to see Moira MacTaggert returning to the X-Men film franchise!
That said, the trailer gives a lot of the 'hidden things' away; that, since the days of ancient Egypt, the first mutant – the most powerful mutant of all – has been working in the shadows. Apocalypse identified himself with three Gods:
- Ra - the supreme sun god in Egyptian mythology, a self-created being who ruled over all things and was the originator of all life. Interestingly, in some literature Ra was described as an aging king with golden flesh, silver bones, and hair of blue precious stones.
- Krishna - the most widely-worshipped Hindu deity, viewed by many as the Supreme God. The name originates from a Sanskrit word meaning "black," "dark," or "dark blue."
- Yahweh - the holiest name of God to the Jews, often represented by the Tetragrammaton YHWH – a name so holy that no Jews would say it, and Christians traditionally associate Yahweh with the mistranslation Jehovah. In contrast to the other deities, Yahweh claims to be the one true God, and that there are no other gods besides Him; all others are mere altars of wood and stone. Yahweh also lacks physical form; He is Spirit.
It's a fairly traditional idea, that an ancient being could be the source of almost all of our myths. I note that Bryan Singer carefully avoids dialogue associating Apocalypse with Jesus, which would be a bit more controversial in America, and would introduce awkward concepts of grace and forgiveness. Although those ideas are strongly present in Jewish faith in Yahweh, they're more easily overlooked due to common conceptions of the Old Testament God as being a God of judgment. Continuing this idea, later in the film, there's discussion about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:
"He got that one from the Bible."
"Or the Bible got it from him."
The idea couldn't be better expressed than in those two sentences!
Absorbing the characteristics of the various deities he has, ah, 'inspired,' Apocalypse views mutants as his children and desires to give them their 'Promised Land' – to take the world for them.
It's here that the film deviates from the comics. In the comics, Apocalypse is inspired by a twisted form of Social Darwinism, in which he seeks to bring about a world in which only the fit will survive. That said, some of the teasers have suggested that this motive carries on somehow, so the trailer isn't actually introducing us to all the concepts underpinning Apocalypse's character and motivations. There are still some curve-balls to be thrown in along the way.
The Four Horsemen
This moment in the trailer made me sit back and beam. Here we see Ben Hardy's Archangel, one of Apocalypse's Four Horsemen, a man whose wings have been transformed to metal by Apocalypse's power - and who can project metal 'flechettes' (as the comics called them in the early '90s). The look is fascinating; Fox has avoided the blue skin that Apocalypse gave Archangel in the comics, and gone with a costume strongly reminiscent of those the character wore before he encountered the demagogue. Still, it's a look and feel that will resonate strongly with any fans of the comics.
In fact, the similarities between the movie and comic book versions run throughout the film. Storm is recognizable - the costume is one you could imagine the character wearing in the comics, and even the hairstyle is one that she had in the late 1980s! We see enough to realize that these Four Horsemen are a force to be reckoned with, and I can't help wondering; how would Apocalypse enhance the powers of Storm? A common complaint about the first three X-Men movies, where Halle Berry played the character, is that she typically lacked the tremendous power of the comic book version; she'd been diminished in a way that fans found dishonoring, right down to precious little flight-time. Alexandra Shipp's portrayal looks likely to be very, very different.
It's worth noting that there is still one common thread, though; in the first three X-Men movies, Berry's Storm was notably a woman with a great depth of anger. That anger looks to be a strong part of Shipp's portrayal, although her spiritualism is the main reason Storm chooses to follow Apocalypse.
Interestingly, the comics have traditionally struggled to create a powerful 'Four Horsemen' group, because they've tended to show Apocalypse as obsessively reproducing the biblical pattern; a Horseman of War, a Horseman of Death, a Horseman of Pestilence, and a Horseman of Famine. Even when Apocalypse recruited notable heroes as his Horsemen - the Hulk was War at one point, while Wolverine spent time as Death - they've often been complemented by minor-league villains in order to fill the other roles. Singer has chosen a very different approach, instead just choosing four powerful characters.
This team of X-Men are unlike any other – with Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique siding with the team. The character is clearly in a position of prominence, and rumors strongly suggest a romance between Mystique and Nicholas Hoult's Beast.
There's a fun piece of dialogue where Mystique tells Tye Sheridan's Cyclops not to control his powers; "This is war." But that raises an interesting question; if Apocalypse can control mutants, how much control does he have against those whose own abilities are uncontrollable? In other words, could Cyclops play a key role in Apocalypse's defeat?
The trailer shows Cyclops clearly lashing out with his optic blasts at full-force. It's rather cool, and shows that we might see the Cyclops that fans (such as myself) have longed to see in the movies.
Kodi Smit-McPhee's Nightcrawler looks tremendous, and it's clear that Singer is harping back to his portrayal in X2. This is actually quite important; in that movie, the markings on Nightcrawler's flesh were a form of Catholic penance, springing from Nightcrawler's religious beliefs. In a movie where so much seems to hark back to ancient faiths, Nightcrawler may play an important role, especially since Singer is clearly continuing the threads of penance.
Although comic book fans often mock Jubilee (even James McAvoy recently described her as having the "lamest" powers, although I disagreed), Singer has apparently veered away from the comics with her powerset; she's been described as "mistress of electricity." In which case, ironically, this teenager may be the X-Men's best weapon against Storm - whose lightning may wind up doing unexpected things around Jubilee!
Two final things; first of all, here's the awesome shot of Xavier finally taking on his iconic look!
I do so love that, in the movies, Xavier's going bald actually looks set to be a major plot point!
Finally, if you want to have a listen to the creepy trailer soundtrack, here it is:
All in all, the trailer looks exceptional. It's been a long time since I've been this excited about an X-Men movie – but this looks as though it might just be the best X-Men film to date!