The wait finally comes to an end as 20th Century Fox releases their Marvel franchise film X-Men Apocalypse. The story spans across an occult history of Apocalypse aka En Sabah Nur, who is awakened after being dormant for centuries, to purge the world of the weak and erect himself as proclaimed god of the new world. He recruits four mutants, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and imbues them with great power to facilitate the destruction of the world. And it is up to the X-Men to bring a god to his knees, even at the risk of death. As the alternative isn’t one worth entertaining.
Straight off the bat, we have to say casting for the film was superbly on point. And whilst every film is never perfect, the casting gave the film a strong enough base to build on like some form of a 3D triangular structure… Hold on, I think the Professor is reaching out, trying to secretly point out a few things…
Egyptian Hollywood Mythology
The opening scene traverses the sifting sands of Ancient Hollywood Egypt, you know the kind, where everyone is light-skinned except for those one or two hench bodyguards or soldiers. And we can’t forget some form of the Ankh, that cross with the loop-di-loop at the top. A symbol that categorically represents life by the joining of the male and female; the loop being the womb, the horizontal extensions being the fallopian tubes and the stem being the male counterpart. But let’s slap an ‘A’ roof on it to make it unique. Hollywood Egypt. We get it. Not exactly God’s Of Egypt. So that’s a plus.
The mighty Apocalypse of old begins an ancient ritual within a grandiose pyramid that sees his very consciousness being transferred to a mutant slave who apparently has the power to heal. Later explained, the strength of Apocalypse comes from his millennia of conscience-transference and the mutant powers he collects each time.
The ritual was partly interesting… it somehow involved the use of light (Egypt loves them some Ra) and somehow fused it with circuit-board-looking technology that didn’t seem too alien beside themselves. Which I think lends itself to the painstaking work concept artists and designers must’ve gone through to envision those seconds-long clips.
But just as the process is completed, there are usurpers with shifty eyes that would see death to the false god Apocalypse. With the strategic knocking down of pillars, two large stones fall down a shaft in the pyramid, bringing the mighty structure crumbling about Apocalypse and his current four horsemen. The Four Horsemen sacrifice their very lives to protect the new vessel that now houses the god-mutant. I’m guessing the slaves were in on to this regicide plan too… either that or there was some major structural flaws overlooked by the architect.
So not being able to use the sun to complete the
sunbathing ritual, trapped under stories of rubble, Apocalypse remains dormant for centuries. We then traverse through an animated timeline vortex that seems to compress human history into the birth of Christianity, Roosevelt, the advent of flight, defeating the Nazis and Las Vegas. A somewhat lacklustre X-Men Apocalypse title sequence signals the start of the ride… movie.
The Four Horsemen and Revelation Myth
Of course the biblical aspects of the X-Men Apocalypse may have been at the forefront of all the promo for the film, including the trailers and individual Horsemen posters and Tarot card Posters. But the imagery and themes were not overly concerned with religiosity or the concept of Revelations… apart from the ‘cleansing’. This I felt slightly disappointed by, which honestly may be my impartiality of how great I found graphic novels like Kingdom Come, which took the Christian mythology of Revelations and grafted it seamlessly with the world of meta-humans and the DC universe.
But, apart from Magneto bringing War to the bastard humans, none of the other horsemen embodied the personages of the biblical horsemen of the apocalypse. Even in the slightest. If the imagery was integral into setting up the premise of Apocalypse, the least they could do was follow-through to the movie.
The film however does embrace the ideology behind cultish practices, that much Bryan Singer alluded to in the development of the film. Apocalypse is presented as a virtually omnipotent, Messiah-like leader that ensnares the lost and forsaken of society, giving them power, purpose and direction to their otherwise misguided lives. His recruitment of the Four Horsemen found each at their weakest moments, and came with an offer that would bring them true purpose and desire. For Ororo, it was possibly the need to belong, a connection to her mutant kind. For Psylocke, a yearning for unbridled power, so she wouldn’t be controlled… (although choosing one male master for another isn’t exactly a strong female character as Olivia Munn would have you think). Angel’s honeypot was to cure his disfigurement and make him fighting-fit again. And Magneto, having his wife and daughter killed in front of him, wants revenge. On every human. And as blood hot as Magneto is known to get, this rage is nothing new, and it’s pretty much welcomed. The favourite kill technique in the film seemed to be mutants using an otherwise harmless object, send it travelling about peoples heads and necks killing them instantly. The ‘pendant’ scene I definitely saw coming. And who knew sand decapitating men would be that entertaining?
The idea of religiosity however is not totally lost in X-Men Apocalypse. One scene that truly stood out in this respect is when Apocalypse stands alongside his Horsemen with abducted Charles, atop a monolith overlooking the city of Cairo. Like Satan who brought the Christ to a mountain promising all the glories of rule and kingdoms if only He submitted to his will:
Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
And while you may think Apocalypse’s goal was to purge the earth of the human dregs and false gods to build a new world on their rotting carcasses, deep down, he wanted to be a hairstylist. Ororo got the white highlights when he awoken her powers. Charles went super-bald during the failed conscience-transplanting process. All awesome transformative stuff.
It becomes apparent that despite the religious undertones and symbolism, this is still a superhero film. The kind of doom-bell toll and brassy type of scores that would have reverberated through our very souls and have us constantly looking up to the cinema ceiling to check that we weren’t in a real apocalypse was not as present as the “Villain entrance theme song v1” type of music composition at certain places.
And at this point we are just going to totally ignore the fact that Moira is the true horsewoman of the apocalypse. If it weren’t for her meddling and uncovering the entrance to the excavation made by Apocalypse’s mindless cult worshippers, the sun wouldn’t have hit the gold capstone, re-awakening Apocalypse in the process. Thanks, lady.
Apocalypse Then, Apocalypse Now
The Apocalypse we remember is a physically-imposing character that would literally put the fear of god in you. In Apocalypse… not so much. But Singer made the right choice for Apocalypse. It was better Singer got someone like Oscar Isaac that could reach the emotional depth and gravitas of a character who’s greatest power is persuasion, than a muscle bound guy who has the look but none of the presence.
The powers Apocalypse has amassed over the years play an integral part in his recruitment of the fabled Horsemen. The most important being the ability to amplify the power of mutants.
And believe us, while that’s all cool, the greatest mutant power is persuasion. And Apocalypse uses all the mutant powers he has amassed to try and facilitate this. But true persuasion, from inception to circumventing one’s own mental defences to ultimately controlling the mind, is something Apocalypse could use in his arsenal. Which is what attracts Apocalypse to Charles Xavier.
To control thought, however remotely. That would truly make Apocalypse a god.
There were one-too-many odd gesticulations in Apocalyspe’s speaking with his Horsemen (with Magneto at Auschwitz), when it would have better served him to have more of a statuesque presence of Darkseid and Galactus rolled into one.
Apocalypse however certainly has his moments where his intimidation game was on point, particular near the end during his and Charles’ psionic clash in the battleground of the mind. Apocalypse’s size shift, the one scene seen in the trailer, is the one true moment where I felt Apocalypse was a full package.
And he would’ve won too, if it weren’t for those pesky kids.
Mutants of the Future
X-Men Apocalypse may have a title that would seem to signal the end, but we’re sure 20th Century Fox is just getting started. Going younger, pretty much like Marvel did for MCU’s Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War and Homecoming, is a strategic move. They tap into a younger audience, giving a whole new generation the ability to grow up once again with the X-Men. And with the X-Men, the concept of overcoming bigotry and discovering one’s own hidden potential are themes that a Generation ‘Why-the-hell-do-you-own-a-selfie-stick’ should certainly be exposed to.
And no one embodied this more than Jean Grey. She alone picks up on the coming dangers. Her very premonition, which even the great Xavier dismisses as dreams, manifests itself in the real, turning her room into one creepy, wall-boiling horror fest.
Maybe because we like actress Sophie Turner. Girl next door vibe maybe? But in any case, her character, more than anyone ties into the concept of fear. Not of failure, but of great potential. Reminds us of a Marianne Williamson quote:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure
It is Jean who saves the day. It is also Scott, though not in the awesome way pictured above. With the help of mantle bearers who are set to pass the onus of revolution down to a younger generation; Mystique, still camouflaging herself as a blonde, ignored the responsibility to lead despite many young mutants worldwide looked up to her as a role model and hero following the events of X-Men: Days Of Future Past.
But by the end of X-Men Apocalypse, she takes on her true blue form, and embodies her role as a leader to educate and defend mutant-kind. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Mystique was certainly noteworthy, being the bridge between the clean sterile ideologies of Charles Xavier and the war-fuelled, by-any-means-necessary ideology of Magneto.
I’m however just a little bummed out that the young generation was hinged on the obvious coming love-story between Scott Summers and Jean Grey (and hey, Scott doesn’t seem that lost and and angry either). Other characters like Jubilee (we so wanted to see her in a mad squabble where she gets so emotionally-charged that she trails off cursing in Chinese) were more background. Ororo and Nightcrawler however had decent cameos, but they had to; Ororo was one of the Horsemen, with her origins being African obviously was a plus for the first recruit. Nightcrawler on the other hand was pretty much transport to somewhat rival Apocalypse’s more smoother mode of teleportation.
There’s also the fact that all the younglings seemed combat ready. I was expecting more fumbling of the ball, and near crossfires. Mystique being forced into the leadership role more, adding a bit of structure to their raw talent. But oh well…
And of course, being such an awesome fan-favourite sequence before, Quicksilver had us smiling in his rescue scene that had him save everyone from the explosion in Xavier’s mansion in miraculous, ultra-cool fashion. And having Quicksilver take on Apocalypse was definitely a nice little sequence, having almost gotten the better of Apocalypse, before Apocalypse literally adjusted his eyes to the speed of Quicksilver and neutralised him in the ugliest of ways by breaking his leg.
At the end of the film, we certainly feel we are on the verge of seeing the type of X-Men most of us know and love. The X-Men of the 90’s. The comics and animation series that fuelled our childhoods. When Jubilee and Storm and Jean Grey and Cyclops and
Wolverine were under one roof. Granted they find a replacement for Hugh Jackman, whose last appearance as Wolverine is set to be in his 3rd solo film.
And speaking of Wolverine, his appearance, which was pretty short-lived in the grand scope of things, may have been more of a conduit for another coming instalment in the franchise. The post credit sequence shows a bunch of suits entering the secret facility that contained Wolverine… which would seem like an odd place to house the mutant… alongside the power supply, within a see-through cage gate. I’d have put him in the deepest hellhole at the base of the facility with two card key access and ’round-the-clock guard. That’s just me. But anywho, yes, end credit. Some suits enter the facility during clean up, taking a vial of Weapon X’s blood and places it in a briefcase alongside other colourful vials. The colours mean they’re important. See Civil War. The case closes to show the words Essex Corp. Now comic fans know this can only mean one thing… Nathaniel Essex. In the comics, he was a scientist from the 19th century who was obsessed with evolution and made a pact with the ancient mutant Apocalypse to become a virtually immortal being. Well, that was the origin story of none other than Mister Sinister. That gender-obscure immortal rock god!
As for the vial of blood… could this be an intro into another Weapon X creation- X-23?!
Narrative-speaking, X-Men does well. However the timeline of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men anthology is a bit muddled. Especially when there are connecting strands that bring all the X-Men movies together in the same universe… mainly Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Patrick Stewart’s Xavier. That or the concept of time travel puts my brain a regurgitation fit. James McAvoy’s Xavier is always on form…and we’re not just saying that because he went cueball. He had just the right amount of teary eyes (digitally?) when emotional and not once did he seem out of character as the caring warm-hearted mentor. Even when he got creepy trying to suss out Moira’s current love life at the CIA. Hilarious.
And in the end we see a bit of Erik has rubbed off on Xavier. He says he feels sorry for the poor soul who would dare try to enter his school and harm one of his children. Guess he forgot about Havok already. So now the mutants are being trained in the ways of simulated combat (again with the Sentinels… can we actually see these robotic abominations in full-on reality already?!) via the danger room under the tutelage of Mystique. In any case, a future for the young is certainly a great promise, and hopefully 20th Century Fox and Marvel can work something out for a truly colossal film? Here’s to hope against hope.
A nice X-Men film, and we think going younger is an excellent idea, as X-Men’s appeal has always been about uncovering hidden potential. They however could use some MCU-timeline-alignment magic (although the ship has kinda left the port on that one)… and making sure the themes that establish interest are built on effectively in the film
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