It’s a time of conflict, war and destruction
Following his acclaimed work on X-Men: Days Of Future Past, director Bryan Singer takes the franchise to new heights with X-Men: Apocalypse, in which the X-Men battle the original and most powerful mutant — Apocalypse.
In 1983, the invincible and immortal Apocalypse is set free after being entombed for several millennia. Enraged that his kind are no longer treated as gods, Apocalypse assembles a team of powerful mutants, including a disheartened Magneto, to destroy humankind and create a new world order, over which he will reign. To end Apocalypse’s path of global destruction, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Professor X (James McAvoy) lead a team of young X-Men in an epic showdown with a seemingly unstoppable enemy.
The critically hailed blockbuster X-Men: Days Of Future Past was a tough act to follow. Moreover, the filmmakers’ goal was to not only live up to the expectations set by that film, but to exceed them. “We had a real challenge to come up with a story that could surpass Days Of Future Past in terms of scale and stakes,” notes writer-producer Simon Kinberg, who served in those capacities on that film.
A creative breakthrough came with the decision to have the new film’s antagonist be the most powerful mutant villain in the entire X-Men universe. “Apocalypse poses a cosmic threat and that sense of scale appealed to Bryan Singer and me,” Kinberg adds.
Of course, Singer’s embrace of the character was critical. He reinvented the comic book genre as we’ve come to know it with the debut of the successful X-Men in 2000, followed by the blockbuster X2 in 2003. With those films, and then years later with X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Singer seamlessly fused character-driven drama, science fiction, action and adventure.
Singer was particularly drawn to Apocalypse’s self-designation as a god. “I was fascinated by the notion of ancient mutant powers, and what a mutant would think if he or she was born 20,000 or 30,000 years ago. They would, of course, think they were a god, and would behave as one. And they would be looked at and worshipped like a god.
“Apocalypse believed that it was his responsibility to build a society and to remove humanity’s innate savagery. Over the millennia, Apocalypse had done this many times—with, for example, the Babylonians, Arcadians, Sumerians—and he’d been called many gods over many lifetimes.”
“Bryan kicked the door down on history to bring this incredible villain back from such a distant point in history,” says producer Hutch Parker. Indeed, long before the world was aware of mutants, Apocalypse ruled as a god. Actually, “he imagines himself not just as a god, but as the god,” says Kinberg. “That’s a very rich idea for a villain. It’s not a man versus mutant struggle, as we’ve seen in other films; it’s a world Apocalypse has envisioned, where only the strong survive.”
“He’s a threat unlike any the X-Men have known,” adds Parker. “Apocalypse is both ancient and otherworldly.”
Given Apocalypse’s vision of global destruction, it’s no surprise that this is the most visually ambitious of the X-Men pictures. “We’re not only traveling the world, we’re talking about the potential end of the world, and perhaps the end of the universe,” says director of photography Newton Thomas Sigel, who previously collaborated with Singer on X-Men: Days Of Future Past, X2, and X-Men, among other films. Adds Oscar Isaac, who plays the seminal figure: “The stage is set for an epic mutant versus mega-mutant war. The battle between the X-Men and Apocalypse is insane!”
Moviegoers got their first glimpse of Apocalypse in a post-end credits sequence in X-Men: Days Of Future Past, where a younger version of the mutant was seen building pyramids, telepathically, while his minions looked on.
Apocalypse’s 5,000-year absence began when civilization was at its peak; his sleep ends when it’s arguably at its nadir. Upon rising in Cairo in 1983 from his millennia-long slumber, Apocalypse is shocked and repulsed by our planet’s decline—the cars, noise, pollution—all signs of a failed world that he must cleanse. His mission: exterminate the weak and rebuild it for the strong.
“It’s a time of conflict, war and destruction,” notes Singer. “Apocalypse sees this as a civilization in desperate need of culling. There are false idols: people now worship money, and possess nuclear weapons, which gives them a false sense of godlike power. This does not work for Apocalypse. So he wants to put an end to it and start everything fresh again—and to reshape Earth in his image.”
Having grown up in the eighties, Kinberg understood how it was marked by excess, as seen in the hairstyles, fashion, and automobiles. “In 1983, Apocalypse rises from the perfection of ancient Egyptian culture into an over-populated, polluted, nuclear-threatened culture,” he says. “So his motivation is understandable, though his methods and goals are extreme.”
Oscar Isaac, who took on the role of Apocalypse following his star turn as the heroic starfighter pilot Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, calls the character nothing less than “the creative/destructive force of this earth. When things seem like they’re no longer evolving—like they did in the 1980s—he destroys those civilizations.”
Singer considered and then rejected the notion of making the character a giant, at least for most of the movie. “You will see him bigger than life, so there’ll be that satisfaction,” he explains. “But I also felt Apocalypse needed to exert his powers of persuasion. That’s why I went with a really fine actor—Oscar—instead of just throwing him in a digital costume and animating him. There are some pretty spectacular things that occur, but it was important to feel a sense of realness—that Apocalypse is a physical being. I never wanted to lose the actor inside of CG animation.”
The role required a juxtaposition of cruelty and violence with a unique kind of humanity. It’s a delicate balance that Isaac executes with consummate skill. “Oscar has all of the different colors of the greatest actors,” says Kinberg. Adds Parker: “Oscar has such authenticity and dramatic integrity that he’s really one of the anchors of the film—playing the character around which everything pivots.”
As he puts the finishing touches on X-Men: Apocalypse, Singer notes that while his last directorial effort, X-Men: Days Of Future Past was extremely satisfying, the new film is even bigger—in several ways. “In terms of scope and visuals, this is a much bigger movie. Days Of Future Past involved time travel, some robots, but mostly a lot of heists! This one is global destruction, godlike characters…a much bigger film. But we never lose the heart and the characters; we cling to those because they are very important. But there will definitely be a lot more spectacle this time around.”