The onslaught of comic book movies have made countless fans’ dreams come true, seeing their favorite heroes, heroines, and villains realized in live-action. But for every success, there’s a property, or character, that falls painfully short. And more often than not, that’s chalked up to a writer, director, or studio that adapts a comic to serve their needs – not the source material. Over the years the X-Men series has committed that sin more than a few times; particularly, when it comes to the nationality of its mutants.
But that’s one problem that X-Men: Apocalypse looks poised to solve – at least as it pertains to the fan-favorite weather wielder, Storm. Having been played with varying success (depending completely on who you ask) by Halle Berry throughout the franchise, the average movie fan might not know that Storm, a.k.a. Ororo Munroe, hails from a royal line of Kenyan princesses, all genetically gifted in ‘sorcery’ (or mutant abilities). It’s just one fact about the character’s overlooked backstory that director Bryan Singer is finally going to show onscreen.
We had the opportunity to speak with Singer on the set of Apocalypse in July, along with Alexandra Shipp, the actress charged with playing a younger version of the white-haired mutant made famous by Oscar winner Halle Berry. And as we learned more about Storm – one of the main villain’s deadly Four Horsemen – the clearer it became that the foundations, if not the majority of this take on the character seems to be pulled directly from her comic book history. And that, after years of being ignored completely, will be music to fans’ ears.
A Darker Storm Than Fans Are Used To
It’s impossible to say that Singer didn’t adapt the core of Storm’s comic character into the movies the first time around, since the series began long after she had found a place to belong with the X-Men. Still, Berry’s strange, ever-changing (and ultimately disappearing) accent was enough evidence for fans to feel shortchanged, since Storm was, quite literally, one of the most incredible women in Marvel Comics. And a large part of that reason was the truly tragic and grueling experience she had to endure just growing up.
In the comics, as mentioned above, Ororo was just the latest in a long line of mutant women, apparently tracing all the way back to humanity’s earliest steps from the Great Rift Valley in eastern Africa (Kenya, specifically). But when her mother sought a different future for her royal daughter, she married a westerner, and moved to Cairo, Egypt. It was there that Ororo’s life took its first blow, when a fighter jet crashed into her home, killing both of her parents. Orphaned and forgotten by her own people, Ororo was left to wander the streets of Cairo until she eventually crossed paths with another western mutant by the name of Charles Xavier.
Well, that’s her origin story in the original timeline – assuming the X-Men movies truly did follow the same origin. But in Apocalypse, it’s another mutant who finds her after waking from a centuries-long nap. And that chance(?) encounter sends her on a very, very different path. Shipp explained the different Storm fans will see, confirming that the comic book origin seems to be shaping the character this time around:
“This Storm is a little bit different because you’re meeting her in Cairo. You’re seeing… where she comes from. You’re seeing all the pain that she’s gone through. It’s not like she’s in the mansion having a great time. She’s so different from all of the other kids because they come from families. They come from some sort of love and support, whereas Storm hasn’t had that since her parents died when that plane crashed into the house when she was like, five.
“The only mutants that she knows are the mutants who use their powers for stealing… It’s not like, “Oh, we’re going to save the planet,” it’s like, “Forget the planet, I need money so I’m going to distract you with some wind and then I’m going to pickpocket you.” She’s in survival mode, so when she meets Apocalypse, she’s hit this revelation where she’s been struggling to feel like she belongs somewhere. Then this extremely powerful being comes to her and says, “I’m what you’ve been waiting for, I will take care of you”… I don’t necessarily see her as a bad person, or as a bad mutant. I don’t see her as a villain. She doesn’t know that she’s a villain. That’s just all she’s ever known, is just bad.”
The distinction between good and evil is important here, since it’s what makes Storm stand apart from other Horsemen like Magneto (who is driven by anger and hate), or Psylocke (who is looking for a purpose, but enjoying the act of killing). Why is it important? Because if this is truly a story of how Jean Grey, Scott Summers and Ororo Monroe, then we’re betting fans would prefer it ended with them on the same side. Considering how understandable Storm’s backstory is, and where the comic book origin led her, odds are good.
The Comics & Cartoon Inspiration
It’s an understatment to say that Storm’s comic history is a bit complicated, and therefore difficult for any actress to start researching. Aside from an African princess, Storm has married King T’Challa of Wakanda – also known as Black Panther – and proven herself to be one of the most powerful mutants in history (with or without the mohawk). Apparently Shipp wasn’t intimidated, looking to familiarize herself with the character in every way possible
“Oh yeah. I read a bunch of comics. The one comic that I didn’t get to read was Storm’s introduction to X-Men. That’s because it’s worth like $30,000 and I was like, “Okay, is there like some online pictures of it that I could see?” And they’re like, “No, that’s why it’s worth $30,000.” “Oh, okay, got it.”
“I watched the [1990s X-Men] cartoons on repeat. I just kept it going because you could watch them on Hulu Plus, so I just had it going in the background. I love how her accent changed a whole bunch, which was awesome. You’re just like, “Wow, she’s gone from English to sister girl, all the way back”… I’m doing a Kenyan accent. I’m also speaking Arabic, which is cool.”
The animated series is probably responsible for creating almost as many Storm fans as the comics themselves, but Shipp’s homework didn’t stop there. Even if Fox’s X-Men aren’t likely to cross paths with members of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she’s made sure to include Ororo’s famous love story in her own idea of the character:
“I read a lot of the newer comics because there is a lot of newer comics that are doing a lot of her back story especially her stuff with T’Challa, and I wanted to know who she was.
“In my mind because of the way that the script is – in comparison to her comic story line, it’s a little bit different – in my mind, she and T’Challa were king and queen of Africa when they were like 13, and that’s the only way that I could make it work. They were young king and queen, it happens sometimes, whatever.”
Fan service aside, it’s encouraging to know that the mohawk – one of Storm’s iconic looks, which Berry never sported – isn’t just an empty bit of fan service. It’s unclear just how much of the movie will actually take place before Storm encounters Apocalypse, but honestly, previously jilted fans will probably be happy enough to hear that Ororo Munro will finally speak with a Kenyan accent. The Arabic is up for fans to discuss, since it’s likely Apocalypse is fluent in it – if not most of Earth’s languages (being immortal, and all).
Her Suped-Up Superpowers
That’s right, it isn’t just Magneto who gets his powers revved up by Apocalypse, but each and every one of his Horsemen. But even if ‘The First Mutant’ is able to manipulate such a vulnerable, impressionable girl into his superpowered bodyguard, his powers apparently do have limits:
“What [Apocalypse] does is, he has the power… to enhance your power. So while you’re around him, he’s got all these mega level mutants. He’s able to turn them into crazy-baboom level mutants. [Storm] has so many powers, but he doesn’t even know what her powers are when he meets her. He can just sense the level and that’s what attracts him to them… their level and their magnitude of power. I think that his plan for her in the movie is to protect him. Protect him with fog. Protect him with lightening. Blow away a missile. Blow away a plane.
“There is so much that she can do, and what he’s looking for is protection because he just woke up after a couple thousand years… She doesn’t know that she’s really good at being evil because she can be really good at anything with those powers.”
If readers are hoping that a turn to the heroic really is in the cards for Storm, then her role as Apocalypse’s ‘protector’ as opposed to ‘warrior’ is another piece of evidence (it will be easier to forgot the bad crowd she’s fallen in with if she doesn’t murder any of the good guys). Those inclined toward theorizing and speculating on Apocalypse’s own origin story may want to look closely at Shipp’s claim that he needs “protection” when he stumbles out into the 20th Century, as well.
Take good, evil, or bad decisions out of the conversation, and it sounds like Storm’s new (old?) origin story will be as faithful to the comics as fans would have liked from the start. Born with thousands of years of mutant power in her DNA, orphaned in Cairo, and taken under the wing of a powerful, determined mutant is all taken directly from Marvel Comics. Even if it is the wrong wing she’s wound up under.
So, having taken the criticism leveled against the first live-action Storm to heart, and knowing how flexible the time of the X-Men series has become, it’s hard to know if this Storm is actually intended to grow up into Halle Berry’s. But don’t expect Shipp to answer that question, since she had yet to speak to the star actress during our visit, taking the mindset that starting fresh was the right way to go… for several reasons:
“Not yet. I wanted to hold off. I’ve written like 30 draft emails. I’m like, “Alex, you can be cool about this. You can be cool, it’s cool, just be cool”. I’m holding off because when I meet her I want to be like, “Oh my God, I love you!” Not be interrogating her, which I think I would have. Also, it’s like if my seventeen year old self interviewed my older self after I had figured it all out, I think it’d be just a little bit different than Halle so I wanted to keep that distance.”
It was hard not to be swept up by Shipp’s enthusiasm, or ignore the realization that, as ‘faithful’ as this version of the superheroine may be, it is possible to see this version grow up to be the quiet, soft spoken woman from the original X-Men (2000). But if her time spent defending Apocalypse, and fighting against, not with the X-Men sets her on a new path, then perhaps she won’t be so polite when it comes to human rights in the future.
What do you make of this revelation? Are you thrilled to hear that Storm’s comic book origin is finally being given the attention it deserves – down to the accent? Or do you think the small details are overrated by fans, and are just hoping Shipp can live up to the standard set already? Let us know in the comments, and stay tuned for more coverage from our set visit.
Deadpool opens in theaters February 12, 2016; X-Men: Apocalypse on May 27, 2016; Gambit sometime in 2017; Wolverine 3 on March 3, 2017; and an unannounced X-Men film on July 13, 2018. The New Mutants is also in development.