X-Men: Apocalypse buzz: Is God the villain? Is Nightcrawler no longer a Catholic? Here’s why I’m not worried… yet.

X-Men: Apocalypse buzz: Is God the villain? Is Nightcrawler no longer a Catholic? Here’s why I’m not worried… yet. July 13, 2015

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Two months ago, I linked to a couple of interviews with X-Men: Apocalypse star Oscar Isaac in which he said, among other things, that the villain he plays in that film will be “the embodiment of the second coming of the judgments of God”.

Sounds ominous, right? Well, a teaser for that film played at Comic Con the other day, and it pushed the religious angle even harder than we might have expected.

The teaser included voice-overs in which the villain introduces himself by saying: “I’ve been called many things over many lifetimes: Ra, Krishna, Yahweh. . . . I was there to spark and fan the flame of man’s awakening, to spin the wheel of civilization.”

The teaser also contained clips of Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) telling Professor X (James McAvoy) that Apocalypse, the villain, is tens of thousands of years old, and that, “ever since the world found out about mutants, there have been secret societies — cults — who see them as some kind of second coming or son of God.”1

Later, when Magneto (Michael Fassbender) asks Apocalypse who he is, Apocalypse replies, “Come and see” — a phrase that has certain biblical connotations.

In the panel discussion that followed the teaser’s unveiling, Isaac kept the God-talk going as he talked about his character (at the 13:30 mark in this video):

This world that we have, it’s not the world that should have been. God’s just been asleep, and God wakes up and realizes what’s happened and says, “It’s gotta change.”2

Elements like these have alarmed some Christian fans of the series, who wonder if the film is actually going to make the Judeo-Christian God the bad guy of the story. (I have not yet heard of any Hindu reactions to the Krishna reference.)

Similarly alarming, for some: Two months ago, Kodi Smit-McPhee gave an interview to Entertainment Weekly in which he said his character, Nightcrawler, “is in love with the Kanha god” — a surprising nod to Hinduism given that the Nightcrawler of the comics is a devout Catholic, as was the Nightcrawler of X2: X-Men United.

For now, I’m inclined not to make too much of either of these things.

With regard to Nightcrawler, I think it bears noting that Bryan Singer is the director of both X2 and X-Men: Apocalypse, and, as my friend Steven D. Greydanus noted on Twitter, Singer has always shown respect for his source material in the past (both with the X-Men movies and with Superman Returns). It seems unlikely that he would make such a radical change to such a widely-loved character at this point.

What’s more, Smit-McPhee’s comment apparently came up in the context of his interest in eastern and western religions alike. He may well have been describing how he saw the character rather than how the character would define himself.

Plus, Smit-McPhee told Den of Geek back in April that his version of Nightcrawler will be closer to the comics than the one played by Alan Cumming in X2:

I realize the Nightcrawler that is portrayed in X2 is one that has been through quite a bit more and has really embraced the superhero part of him—a kind of violent part. Whereas I think what they’re trying to show here is the more vulnerable Nightcrawler and the one we all kind of related to in the comics. It’s really the fun, happy, swashbuckling Nightcrawler that we all love, so I really can’t wait to portray that. He’s just very vulnerable and truthful, and grounded in his faith.3

As for the far more important question of how the film will deal with Apocalypse’s assertion that he was the god of the ancient Hebrews…

Well, suffice it to say that I have a hard time believing that a major film like this — in a franchise that has shown sensitivity to faith in the past4 — would risk alienating huge swaths of its audience by actually validating that claim within its narrative.

Indeeed, I half-expect the film to clarify (through Nightcrawler, perhaps) that there is a sharp difference between the true God and this false deity, similar perhaps to how Star Trek V: The Final Frontier made the point that Sybok’s false outer-space “God” shouldn’t be confused with the God who can be found in “the human heart”.

Anything’s possible, though. And it was certainly quite bold — provocative, even — for 20th Century Fox to lead with that comment about “Yahweh” in the teaser.

We’ll just have to wait until the film comes out next May to see what it all means.

1. If, as Moira says, Apocalypse is the first mutant, then what would he be the second coming of…?

2. This movie takes place in 1983 on the timeline that was created in last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. If the X-Men on the original timeline never had to deal with Apocalypse, does that mean he never “woke up”, or that Apocalypse thought the original timeline was the world that should have been?

3. Admittedly, Smit-McPhee did not specify which particular faith his version of Nightcrawler will be grounded in, but if the character is being taken even closer to his roots in the comics, well…

4. Again, see X2. But see also a deleted scene from the original X-Men which drew an implicit analogy between the Roman persecution of Christians and the modern world’s persecution of mutants.

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