It's Apocalypse, now! X-Men: Apocalypse, the ninth film in the long-running X-Men series, sees Oscar Isaac’s titular supervillain impose a terrifying threat on a 1980s world. The ramifications for the X-universe seem vast. But what does the future hold for the mutants and their makers? We spoke to the film’s director, Bryan Singer, and its co-writer/producer, Simon Kinberg, to learn some of its apocalyptic secrets.
1. Stan Lee’s wife – and house – cameo in the film
X-Men co-creator Stan Lee makes one of his now-patented cameos in Apocalypse, playing a horrified bystander watching the chaos of Apocalypse’s wrath unfold – and the woman he clutches in fear is in fact his good lady wife of nearly seven decades, Joan Clayton Boocock Lee.
“I guess I can take credit for all Stan Lee cameos,” says Bryan Singer, who cast Lee in his very first Marvel movie cameo back in 2000, for the first X-Men. Now 93, the Marvel Generalissimo understandably “doesn't like to go too far from the homestead” – so Singer went to him. The house you see in the background is Stan Lee’s actual house. “I flew to Los Angeles for a weekend, went along with a tiny little crew, filmed it, and then went in for tea with the Lees.” Excelsior!
2. Bryan Singer is killed by Wolverine
Another cameo which got fans chattering was the appearance of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Back when Apocalypse was filming, Singer had sneakily claimed to us that Wolverine “can’t be in this story,” as he didn’t fit in the X-Men’s formation tale. And while his appearance has little bearing on the plot, he does in fact pop up in a memorable and surprisingly bloody scene (“We had a little ratings issue. I had to modify it,” says Singer).
What you may not have noticed was in amongst Jackman's cameo, Singer himself also makes a cameo, as a security guard in the Weapon X facility who meets an unfortunate end at the adamantium hands of Wolverine. “I'm the guy firing the machine gun, screaming,” Singer says. But it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance. “The camera flies by me. I couldn't recognise myself in it. It was a thrill to get killed by Wolverine. Something to put on the resumé.”
3. Professor X is no longer a pacifist
James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier has always been the yin to Magneto’s yang, offering a pacifist outlook on the mutant/human divide, in opposition to Magneto’s more oppressive worldview. But after the events of Apocalypse, he concedes that he needs an army. “I thought that was an interesting arc to track, the militarisation of Professor X,” says Simon Kinberg. Charles starts the movie as a peaceful university professor and ends by “training a bunch of kids basically as a militia in his basement, ready to go out to hurt some people when necessary. That notion we sort of take for granted – that a grown man would create a militia of kids is pretty crazy!”
The final shot, of a hairless wheelchair-bound Professor X looking over a team of militant mutants, “is so important to me,” says Singer – ”not just having the drill sergeant preparing them for an uncertain future, but Xavier – now sans hair – looking out over it and approving it. It's still a school. But there's got to be another aspect to that mansion.”
4. Jean Grey’s Dark Phoenix storyline could be resurrected
In the climactic battle, Xavier implores Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey to “let go” on Apocalypse, and she unleashes the full force of her powers; eagle-eyed viewers will have spotted a brief glimpse of the Phoenix Force – a mystical, all-powerful and barely controllable cosmic force which is key to Jean Grey’s character in the comics.
Kinberg acknowledges the moment, and teases the possibility that the Dark Phoenix storyline arc could form a key part of future X-Men movies. However, “if we do the Dark Phoenix story,” Kinberg qualifies, “it would be slightly different than if it was done in The Last Stand”. The storyline was included in the third X-Men movie, and came under much criticism – though Kinberg adds “I don't say that disparagingly, because I worked on X-3 – I was a co-writer! I just say it because I think the characters are different now.”
5. Collateral damage is a key issue
Culpability and responsibility are big, important themes in superhero movies this year, with both Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman addressing the problem of superheroes thoughtlessly laying waste to CGI cities with a death toll in the thousands. Singer has “a real problem with massive collateral damage” in movies, “unlike other filmmakers” (though he declines to name which). “Yet this movie deals with massive destruction. I try to mitigate the loss of life in some respect.”
Kinberg agrees, noting that “it's something that people are very critical of in a lot of these movies,” and claims that “we tried to ensure that the things he was destroying felt almost like monuments, rooftops of buildings, rather than a building toppling over and dying. It's one of the things Bryan's very sensitive to. It's things like bridges ripping apart, shipping containers flying through the air, the top of the Sydney Opera House. We tried to be careful."
6. Mystique is now a key X-Men leader – and could star in her own film
The prequel series that began with First Class has come under criticism from some fans for giving too much precedence to Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven, the blue shape-shifting mutant better known as Mystique. In the comics, she’s generally a cold-hearted assassin who sides with Magneto and uses her mutant powers to manipulate others. At the end of Apocalypse, however, she stays loyal to Xavier and the X-Men, shown leading a new X-Men line-up.
Singer acknowledges that this is not hewing closely to the comics' canon, but calls it “kind of my homage to the Age Of Apocalypse comic”. In that 1995 storyline, which took place in an alternate universe, “everyone sort of switches roles,” as Singer puts it. “Obviously I didn't tell that full story, but people's sides are switched, alliances are changed.”
Mystique’s evolution leads Singer to believe she could star in her own solo movie. “I think she's right for [a standalone], whether it's Jennifer or not,” he says. “She has this different view of the world: Xavier can get into Cerebro and look at the world but he'd rather just teach classes and see the beauty of mutants and humans co-existing in his mansion in Westchester. Along comes Raven with a reality check on the state of the world. It opens up a lot of avenues."
7. Jubilee uses her powers in a deleted scene
Lana Condor plays Jubilee in Apocalypse, the third actress to play the character in the films (after Katrina Florence in X-Men and Kea Wong in X2 and The Last Stand). But her plasmoid balls are nowhere to be seen. According to Singer, there is a “whole sequence at the mall,” which had to be cut for time. “You get to see Jubilee use her powers. Unfortunately I couldn't use it in the film.” It will be among the deleted scenes on the DVD.
Also on the DVD: an extended forest sequence with Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, which Singer describes as “amazing and beautiful”. The scene sounds like an emotional day of filming. “I was in tears,” admits Singer. “Simon Kinberg – who has no emotions – had emotions. After he was done with the scene, I hugged him and I said ‘Thank you for that. Now, I need you to do it again...’”
Fun fact: Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy can decide when they want to cry. “They can decide which eye they want to cry out of, and when that tear falls,” according to Singer.
8. The Quicksilver scene took a month and a half to film
Evan Peters’ Quicksilver has an expanded role in Apocalypse, after a scene-stealingly small turn in Days Of Future Past. Singer acknowledges that Quicksilver could have saved the day a lot quicker in DOFP if he’d stuck around (“our troubles here would have been over very quickly”, he laughs, referencing Colonel Kurtz’s famous Apocalypse Now line), explaining that Peters “had to get back to American Horror Story, so I only had him for a short amount of time.”
No such scheduling issues for Apocalypse, which sees Quicksilver act as a sort of mutant fireman, rescuing Xavier’s gifted youngsters from the mansion before it explodes. “The Quicksilver scene in this movie took a month and a half to shoot, and Evan worked on it for 17 days,” reveals Singer. “Just for two minutes of film.”
9. Bryan Singer could direct another X-Men movie
This is the fourth X-Men film to be directed by Bryan Singer, who launched the series back in 2000, and it seems to be the closing of a trilogy. Rumours swirled that Apocalypse would be his mutant swansong, but Singer refuses to abandon the series. “I haven't made a decision,” he says. “I've definitely asked to be kept in the loop on all thoughts, developments and movements in the universe. It's been in my life since I signed the deal to do X-Men in 1996 – that's 20 years ago. So for me to just abandon them and say 'this is my last one' would be foolish.”
X-Men: Apocalypse is in cinemas now. You can listen to our Spoiler Special Podcast with Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg right here.