By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
* Spoiler alert!
When X-Men: Days of Future Past (DoFP) introduced a young En Sabah Nur building a pyramid in ancient Egypt after the movie credits, I was very excited for the next film. While I knew the film would not be set entirely in the past, the introduction of this character was all too brief in that past instance and only a few new details are revealed in X-Men: Apocalypse.
He’s the world’s first mutant who has a god complex and he wants to wipe out humanity to forge a new empire. In the comics, he’s out to create a new world order and he is a lot more patient about it. Many months passed in his quest to find his ideal knights. In the film, he’s rushing the end of days and whom he chooses to be the four horsemen are not necessarily those of the biblical version of the four horseman of the apocalypse. The title of which, Nur uses as his codename.
Angel (Ben Hardy) transformed into Archangel and he’s easily recognizable as the Horseman of Death. He’s the only character from the original X-Factor comic book arc when the villain made life tough for the team. Unlike the source, Angel lost his wings (those fragile bones were shattered) and Apocalypse offered to regenerate them at the cost of becoming a servant. Little is known about the character in the film. He’s a slave forced into cage sports. He looked very cool at the start, but once he became evil, the punk look does not suit him well.
Storm (Alexandra Shipp) from beginning to end is very much stylish. I really enjoyed how she was introduced and put into the universe. Just how she plays into the tale is close to the canon from the comics. She’s a street urchin whom Nur (upon awakening) takes a shining to and he offers her guidance much like how Achmed el-Gibar in the comics took her in. She accepts. Because of her struggles to sustain herself, I believe she represents famine.
Psylocke (Olivia Munn) is nothing like her comic book counterpart. I liked the new introduction of her as a mercenary working for Caliban, a mutant trader. He helps locate and relocate people. The film was looking promising with the suggestion the Morlocks, an underground network of vagabonds, exist in this universe. I generally avoid learning any information about a movie so I can come into it fresh, with only my knowledge of the source material instead of what the film’s producers give out. I hoped that whom Apocalypse chose to be pestilence would be another mutant named Plague from this group instead of Psylocke. Although the trailers gave a lot of the allegiances away, to see how she became one of Apocalypse’s disciples was disappointing. Even in X-Men: The Last Stand, this character does not get the love she richly deserves. Her back story is complex; she hailed from a British background before an encounter with a crime lord turned her into a ninja-assassin following a body swap.
To witness Eric Lehnsherr aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender) become a horseman to symbolize war makes sense. He suffered greatly throughout the films. When considering he especially lost a lot in the heat of World War II and torture of the prison camps, there’s plenty of demons he has to deal with. He simply wants peace, and in the nicely executed segment about him wanting to find that simple life, none of that is going to happen especially when he did a good deed to save a fellow-man. Instead, what his co-workers see, is a mystery and they can not let it go.
This movie is a mixed-bag of good and bad plotting.
For an ancient mutant with specific abilities of being able to transform matter, just where Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) got the technology to allow him to move his soul to a new body needs to be asked. The writing team of Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris assumes viewers know a bit about his past. When considering he has appeared in several iterations of the X-Men animated and comic book series, the odds are good everyone knows him. But there will always be that 15% of the population who does not.
Egypt is home to many ancient alien mysteries, and while I liked the idea suggested in what the pyramid’s purpose and capstone are for, Imhotep must be rolling in his grave. When watching the prologue, I could not help but imagine the entire scene in the context of the original Stargate movie. Had the story included how a lone Egyptian outcast encountered an alien spaceship and how he gained his powers, that would’ve taken up an entire act. To reveal how he was transformed to godhood in his rule — only to be squashed by a rebellion during his next resurrection cycle — would make better sense to show how reviled and feared he was. This character is like Akhenaten instead of a modern-day Jim Jones. This heretic pharaoh led the devout to the desert to build a new city devoted to the Atum, the one and only sun-god. However, the observant will notice Horus, Anubis, Seth and Hathor-Sekhmet (the original four horsemen, perhaps) followed the Beetle helmeted Nur into the pyramid. An image of the hawk is loosely scribed on the surface but from the distance, all anyone will see is the scarab.
I felt let down by the lack of a proper Ancient Egyptian back story to define this classic villain. Oscar Issac looked far more intimidating in the introduction than in the rest of the film. When compared to other versions I’ve read and seen, this cinematic version is very tame, He was more imposing when wearing the robes like Imhotep did in Stephen Sommer‘s The Mummy. But once it was off, the look was too medieval in that Boorman’s Excalibur kind of way. He should have been made bigger and less human. To show him with a techno-organic look would have been a terrific nod how his restorative powers work, as revealed in the comics in the past 15 or so years.
To see that this film borrowed more from the animated X-Men: Evolution series (the full series is available on Amazon) instead of the original appearance in X-Factor was just as uneven. When adapting a beloved villain from one medium, only one source should be used instead of many. I thought he was defeated far too easily. As a force of nature, he has to be like Gojira! To see him beaten — with the method of disposal ripped from the Ultimate Marvel imprint/universe — only muddles his ferocity as a dangerous figure. When the character keeps on coming back like Schrödinger’s cat. I’m sure he still lives somehow. For now, he is a memory ingrained upon the world like 9/11. The cataclysm left will require a massive rebuilding effort.
When considering the after credit sequence, he must return to transform the head of this mysterious Essex company (as revealed after the end credits) into Mister Sinister. This revelation was made in the 1996 limited series, The Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix. Although the events took place in the Victorian age, that has never stopped filmmakers from messing with canon. DoFP was imperfect since Kitty Pryde, not Logan, was the hero who went in time. I’m okay with some changes with some tales, but you just can’t mess with Apocalypse. When there’s no Messiah to defeat him, just who can Handel it requires a cosmic force nobody saw coming.
Let’s hope this possible hint for the future for the X-men franchise can tell that story right.