I was nervous when I first heard Psylocke was going to be featuring in the X-Men: Apocalypse movie.
Mostly because I remember the insulting, half-assed attempt at the character we were (mis)treated to in the forgettable X-Men 3: The Last Stand back in 2006. Better not to attempt it at all than to do it badly, I always say.
But then when I started seeing images of Olivia Munn in full Psylocke get-up (pictured above), I started to lower my guard and allow myself some enthusiasm. From what we’re seeing, Munn looks like a good fit for Betsy Braddock, and moreover the costume, look and feel of the cinematic Psylocke we’re going to be seeing seems very close-to-the-mark, even if the usual liberties are presumably going to be taken with backstory, etc.
It doesn’t mean necessarily that the character will be kept around beyond Apocalypse either. After all, these films have generally been disposing of characters rather callously; Emma Frost from First Class, Banshee, Blink, etc. But a good, respectful depiction of Betsy Braddock for even one showcase movie would be pretty cool in any case.
It probably shouldn’t have taken this long to bring such an iconic character to the big screen; but thinking about it, Psylocke has always been – at least from my perspective – an under-used, under appreciated character in the X-Men world, particularly for such a damn *good* character.
In all the on-again off-again phases I’ve had of reading the comics, Psylocke has never been one of the characters to receive a lot of coverage or development or to be brought to the forefront of events. There were some significant storylines back in the nineties when I was in my formative reading years, such as the Kwannon storyline, her bloody clash with Sabretooth or her relationship with Archangel from Uncanny X-Men #319-ish (one of the X-Men comics’ more interesting character pair-ups).
But generally Psylocke, despite being a popular character among fans (and especially cosplayers) and despite being so rich in potential, has never been center-stage for very long, which has often been a source of frustration to me.
Even in the X-Men, which has given us so many strong, layered and interesting female characters – such as Rogue, Jean Grey, Magik, Rachel Summers, etc – Psylocke has always stood out. She was already there in the mix at the time I first started picking up comic books back in the early nineties, and she always fascinated me and held my attention; this British/Asian psychic/telekinetic with mesmerizing martial arts fluidity, stiff-necked dignity, and who frankly looked amazing. Yet – and even in spite of being sidelined so much – she has only continued to grow and improve as a character since then.
Her presence is always a plus in any set-up; and this has very much carried through to the contemporary X-Men comic books. Whether it was in the pages of Uncanny X-Force, or the all-female X-Men squad alongside Rogue, Rachel Summers and others, or right now in her current situation on Magneto’s team in the pages of the current Uncanny X-Men title, Psylocke brings something to the mix that elevates the experience and heightens the interest levels.
She has seemed more and more, in recent years, a stabilising presence, a calming influence; a character of high intellect and mostly dignified demeanour.
And like Captain Marvel (formerly Ms Marvel), she has ditched the slightly soft-porn look for a more grown-up, dignified appearance, which lends more to her character – as all characters should age and evolve over the years and what was great for the nineties isn’t necessarily what works in the current day.
Yet still, in major storylines or events, she has only ever really been a bit player, despite being in the line-up for Claremont’s X-Men: Genesis (or ‘Legacy’, as they now call it), in Fatal Attractions, and other big stories. There wasn’t even any particularly significant iteration of Psylocke in the seminal Age of Apocalypse event – which was a telling indication of how much Betsy Braddock was being consigned to the background in general.
This has carried on beyond the comic-book source material too. For example, that I’m aware of (and admittedly I haven’t watched absolutely everything), Psylocke has never featured prominently in any of the incarnations of X-Men animated series. She was left out of the classic 90’s show entirely, despite being a primary player in the comic books at the time; and as far as I know, she was never meaningfully brought into the Wolverine & the X-Men show or X-Men: Evolution. And when she was included initially in the film franchise, it was a horrendously cast cameo in X3 (2006) that left a bitter taste in everyones’ mouth.
So now, finally, perhaps Betsy Braddock can be brought to the forefront, where she belongs. I don’t know how much screen-time will be afforded to her in X-Men: Apocalypse, but from what bits and pieces we’ve glimpsed so far, it may be decent. I’m hoping for a good show; and Bryan Singer has fair form in this department, having wonderfully introduced Nightcrawler in X2 (2003) – a Nightcrawler incarnation that was so good it will probably never be matched on-screen again. The cinematic debut of Ms Braddock probably won’t be quite as sublime, but you never know. And again, Olivia Munn looks the part (I’d say by at least 70-80% so anyway).
Meanwhile, Psylocke’s current role as second fiddle to Magneto in the present Uncanny X-Men series has been a source of great satisfaction to me. The Uncanny X-Men title is presently the only X-title I’m regularly reading since the annoying Marvel reboot (again) of all its titles; because having Magneto and Psylocke as the senior characters on a team is just the kind of thing that would be on my long-term wish-list.
And it is further testament to Psylocke’s massive qualities as a character that, in a title featuring Magneto, she is consistently the most interesting, engaging character.