The X-Men are one of the most well-known—and beloved—superhero teams of all time for a reason. The property is a showcase for a wide range of visually fantastic powers and abilities, sure, but more often than not these attributes serve a larger thematic purpose. The X-Men are outsiders, and their persecution simply because they’re different speaks to the human experience at large. So when an X-Men movie was finally being made, we all knew the comics served as a solid foundation for a potentially great feature film story, but the film world of 1999 was markedly different than the one we’re in now.
With the 2000 release of X-Men, director Bryan Singer challenged what a “superhero movie” could be by boldly choosing to open the film with a sequence set at Auschwitz during World War II. The movie as a whole embraced the fantastical aspect of the comics material while grounding the entire story in the real world, with superheroes that were cool and different, but also incredibly relatable both from a character and thematic standpoint. And with Singer’s brilliant decision to use a very confused Wolverine as an audience surrogate, with a “this is very ridiculous” attitude towards the entire concept of a team of super-mutants, the movie bridged the gap between comics fans and general moviegoers.
The franchise has flourished and thrived over the past decade and a half, evolving and shifting along with the superhero genre as a whole, but never losing its identity (well okay, almost never—the less said about The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine the better). And with this May’s sixth proper installment (ninth in the “X-Men Universe”) X-Men: Apocalypse, Singer returns for his third time in the director’s chair to simultaneously conclude, begin, and expand various aspects of the X-Men saga.
In the middle of July, 2015 I found myself standing in a room with mutants. Psylocke was practicing her sword moves quietly to herself, Magneto and Apocalypse were chatting it up, Storm was getting her Mohawk retouched, and Archangel was in the process of having some face tattoos applied. Not only was I in close proximity to some of the most exciting actors working today, but I was on the set of an X-Men movie; the biggest X-Men movie, to be precise, and while I was technically working, I couldn’t ignore the fact that my childhood dream of seeing these mutants in the flesh was literally coming true.
This all happened just a week after director Bryan Singer and his full cast showed up at San Diego Comic-Con to debut the first footage from X-Men: Apocalypse, at which time myself and a small group of reporters were invited to the Montreal set of the new X-Men movie. During our two days on set, we witnessed the filming of two crucial scenes, spoke with actors both new and veteran to the franchise, and took part in an epic, candid, hour plus-long interview with Singer himself. It was an intimate glimpse into the making of not only a massive franchise film of 2016, but also the next installment in what is one of the hallmark film series responsible for the current superhero movie climate.
So what did I see getting filmed? Well the first day we were in an active paper manufacturing facility, which was doubling as mutant Angel’s (Ben Hardy) hideout. Set in 1983, this superhero sequel finds the ancient mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) waking up after centuries of rest and setting out to bring order to humanity on a global scale. To achieve this, he rounds up four mutants—the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—to both protect and aid him in bending the world to his will. For this particular scene, Apocalypse and three previously gathered Horsemen—Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and Storm (Alexandra Shipp)—were conversing with Angel, culminating in Apocalypse expanding Angel’s powers in a big way.
While the production didn’t allow us to hear the audio of the scene (don’t worry folks, no spoilers here), we did witness a pretty incredible feat of performance by Fassbender, who turned emotional on a dime as he was deep in telepathic conversation with James McAvoy’s Professor X, all the while Apocalypse ran his hands over Angel while Storm and Psylocke stood in awe of the massive armor that will emerge once the visual effects are added in. This scene, as we learned later from our epic interview with Singer, evolved on the day as Singer, Fassbender, Isaac, and screenwriter/producer Simon Kinberg were inspired to diverge from the script’s original plan—something not uncommon on the X-Men set, which usually results in bursts of creative inspiration that may or may not find their way into the finished film.
And on our second day on set, we were driven out to a large property on the outskirts of Montreal, where Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Hank (Nicholas Hoult), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) and some of the new young mutants like Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Jubilee (Lana Candor) were involved in the filming of a massive action set piece on Professor X’s mansion grounds, along with a hundred or so teenaged extras. To explain exactly what was going on would be a spoiler, but suffice it to say that something happens at the mansion that puts the aforementioned mutants in mortal danger.
The set itself was wildly impressive, with greenscreen filling in most of the mansion aside from some key practical details like a garden entrance and, well, some rubble here and there. Given the technical difficulty of shooting the scene, there was plenty of downtime during which the cast needed to remain in the grass, in their positions. Naturally, to pass the time, Jennifer Lawrence and Evan Peters led a rendition of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion.”
From my time on set and during my bevy of interviews with the cast and filmmakers, I learned a lot about what to expect from X-Men: Apocalypse and beyond. Below, I’ve compiled an extensive list of 78 key things to know about the film. I’ll be sharing much more from my set visit over the coming days and weeks, but for a deeper dive check out the below links.
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: New Timeline Explained by Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: Bryan Singer on the Villain’s Powers, Costume, and Casting Oscar Isaac
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: How Did They Decide Which Mutants to Include?
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: Michael Fassbender on Working with Oscar Isaac, Becoming a Horseman
And here are some of the highlights:
- When the movie begins, everyone has gone different directions: Charles and Hank are at the mansion with a new class of students, Erik is living a domestic life in Europe, and Raven is living her own life as a mutant freedom fighter.
- The film opens with sequences that are set 5,000 years in the past, and Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg watched a bunch of documentaries about ancient Egypt and Pyramid theory to prepare. They wanted the sequences to have a Biblical feel to them.
- The world that exists in Apocalypse differs from the other X-Men movies in that in this timeline, mutants were exposed to the world in 1973 during the debacle at the White House, and so they’re living out in the open and mostly accepted.
- At the beginning of the movie, Raven is traveling the world trying to put a stop to the prejudice that hides under the surface of the apparent acceptance of mutants.
- This new timeline is not necessarily leading towards the first X-Men movie anymore, although the philosophy is that the river will mostly end up in the same place with a few divergences here and there. This timeline is leading up to the New Future seen at the end of Days of Future Past, barring any other time travel changes.
- In this new timeline, people could die that were alive in X-Men 1, 2 and 3, and people could survive who died in those three films.
- Apocalypse completes the story of Charles, Erik, Hank, and Raven that began in First Class and in some ways is about “bringing the family back together.”
- Scott and Jean are main protagonists of the movie, and their arcs are very connected to Charles and Raven in the film, with Charles being the father figure and Raven being the leader.
This version of Scott Summers is “kind of a messed up kid who’s struggling to find his place in the world,” and he’s not happy about being at Charles’ school.
- Cyclops’ sunglasses are Ray-Bans.
- After Tye Sheridan found out he was going to play young Cyclops, he wrote a handwritten letter to James Marsden telling him how honored he felt to inherit the character, and Marsden responded by email within a few hours.
- The film explicitly deals with the fact that Scott and Havoc are brothers and explores that relationship, which is something they’ve been wanting to do since they introduced Havoc in First Class.
- After Lucas Till (Havoc) wrapped his scenes, he wanted to stay in Montreal with the cast until the movie was finished shooting, so he moved in with Tye Sheridan (Scott).
- Thematically, Apocalypse is about families coming together.
- Kinberg describes the tone of the film as a mix between the lightness of First Class, with the young mutants and “80s kitchiness”, and the darkness of Days of Future Past on account of the global stakes.
- Since the mutants aren’t in hiding anymore, this Charles Xavier’s School for the Gifted is a much bigger school and a “brighter, happier place” at the beginning of the film.
- The arc of Charles in Apocalypse is the mirror of his arc in DOFP in that it’s one of him having too much hope at the beginning of the film to becoming a little more hardened by the end. They’re moving towards a Professor X who is “slightly different” than the Patrick Stewart Xavier we saw.
- There are “a few” iterations of the Four Horsemen in the film.
Psylocke wasn’t originally the fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse. When they felt like they needed a different character, Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg decided they wanted it to be female and, after cycling through the different Horsemen landed on Psylocke. Kinberg had just met with Olivia Munn for a role in Deadpool, and so he immediately thought she’d be a good fit.
- When Munn was asked to play Psylocke, she immediately emailed Simon Kinberg fan art that had been made of her as the character.
- Psylocke’s origin is not dealt with in the film, but there are small subtle references to it for the fans. When we meet her, she’s already fully formed as Psylocke.
- Psylocke’s costume was originally black, but Olivia Munn said it had to be purple to be more in line with the comics.
- It was important to Munn that despite the sexualized nature of Psylocke’s costume, the character’s substantive storyline and backstory not be neglected. She sees her as a weapon who’s used to being used, and she’s just looking for “righteous purpose.”
- In the film we see Pyslocke being telekinetic, but we don’t see her being telepathic. Munn and Kinberg made the decision that her telepathy is a power that Psylocke holds close to the chest.
- Pyslocke has both a real sword and a psy-dagger in the movie, and she uses both at the same time to throw her enemies off.
- Michael Fassbender and Simon Kinberg worked out Erik’s arc during the press tour for Days of Future Past, deciding they wanted to see him trying to live a normal life and having that ripped out from under him.
In the development of the script, Kinberg and Singer spent a lot of time watching different versions of the Apocalypse cartoons.
- Kinberg and Singer spent nine months to a year in the conceptual phase on Apocalypse before Kinberg started getting to the shooting script.
- The Apocalypse of the film is amalgam of a lot of different versions of the character from the comics and the cartoons.
- Singer describes the film’s version of Apocalypse as “the God of the Old Testament”
- Apocalypse was chosen as a villain because he’s visually interesting, but also because Kinberg and Singer wanted to see what it would be like for someone who was treated as a god in his time to wake up in a world where he was treated, at best, as an equal. They wanted to explore how that would radicalize the individual.
- Apocalypse has multiple powers in the film, but they had to put limitations on the character in order to provide conflict, otherwise it would be a very short movie.
- Apocalypse moves from body to body, as he’s not himself a physical form but an “energy,” and so he accumulates powers over the millennia by changing bodies.
- The mutant body that Apocalypse chooses to inhabit at the beginning of the film turns out to be a bad choice, which results in him being stuck for a long time.
- Oscar Isaac was their first choice to play Apocalypse, and early on they knew they wanted to cast someone who was not white in the role.
- Apocalypse wants to bring order to the world, no matter the cost.
- The other Fox comic book adaptations Deadpool, Gambit, Fantastic Four and Wolverine take place in a post-Days of Future Past, post-Apocalypse The stadium dropping on the White House in 1973 is a key piece of their history.
The film was shot in native 3D so as to maintain the purity of the format and to cut down on the post-production time that would be needed for a conversion, thereby giving them more time for the creative process.
- Hank is teaching in the school when the film begins, and he builds inventions for some of the new characters that are having trouble with their powers. He also builds the X-Men jet.
- Hank and Charles still have a happy relationship, and one that is more of contemporaries than mentor/mentee, but whereas Charles is content with the seemingly healthy relationship between humans and mutants, Hank still believes the world needs the X-Men, which is why he’s been building the jet.
- The ratio between Hank and Beast in the film is about 50/50, with Nicholas Hoult out of makeup for the first half of the film and then in the makeup for the second half. They used a different rubber for his makeup this time around, which allowed Hoult’s natural facial features to shine through more.
- Hoult came up with an idea on set, in the spur of the moment, for Jean to use Scott’s head like a 50 cal during an action sequence, since Scott can’t control his powers yet.
- Hoult and McAvoy have become good friends off-set, so Singer’s fondness for sometimes improvising on set allowed them to play around more with their relationship onscreen.
- Hank takes on a more paternal role with the new younger X-Men characters.
- There’s a scene in which the blue-ness of both Hank and Nightcrawler is acknowledged in a comedic way, and they shot several different versions of it.
The memory loss of Rose Byrne’s Moira is played for comedy throughout the film. At the beginning of the movie, she’s still working for the CIA.
- On the set of Apocalypse they had talked about ideas for the next X-Men movie, but not as extensively as they had talked about Apocalypse while on the set of Days of Future Past.
- Kinberg says everything that hasn’t been told in First Class or Days of Future Past is up for grabs, including the Dark Phoenix saga.
- Angel appears in two forms, Angel and Archangel, but his wings are completely CG.
- If Days of Future Past was the journey of Charles, Singer says Apocalypse is the journey of Erik and Raven.
- There are three romances in the film: Raven and Hank, Jean and Scott, and Xavier and Moira.
- Havoc has “cleaned up his life” and now lives in Omaha, working as an executive at Berkshire Hathaway.
- When development began, Singer knew he wanted to tell two stories: What happened to Raven and Erik when they left that stadium, and the origins of Jean, Scott and Storm.
- Celestials may or may now factor into Apocalypse in some way.
- The young mutants in the film are “a mess,” and are still very much trying to figure out their powers.
- Singer had fun playing with the 1983 setting since that was a formative year for him as a teenager, and there’s a scene in the film where the characters debate whether Empire Strikes Back or Star Wars is a better movie.
Visually, Singer says Apocalypse will be one of the most elegantly-lit films he’s ever made, but also a bit darker because of the grave nature of the events unfolding.
- Kinberg and Singer often rewrote scenes on the day after being inspired by a location or character turn.
- One major set piece involves unique photography with Go-Pros, the Phantom camera, stunt work, choreography, and visual effects.
- Singer brought in X-Men screenwriters Mike Dougherty and Dan Harris in the early stages of the development process to “get the juices flowing,” sitting around with them and Simon Kinberg to talk about the possibilities of what X-Men: Apocalypse could be before Kinberg went off to write the script.
- To decompress from the stress of shooting the film, Singer would go home at night and watch the CBS series Elementary.
- Jubilee’s power in the film as more of a fire-plasmoid or electricity type rather than simply fireworks.
- When the movie begins, Jubilee has been at Charles’ school for about 10 years.
- Jubilee doesn’t have a huge role in the film, but she serves as more of a comedic relief as part of the Scott/Jean/Nightcrawler friend group.
- Jubilee’s costume has a punch of pins on it and shoulder pads, in keeping with the 1980s aesthetic.
- The Nightcrawler that we see in this film is much closer to his comics iteration, as he’s more vulnerable, swashbuckling, and joyous, but he’s also still grounded in his faith.
Nightcrawler has a scuffle with Angel before Angel becomes a Horseman.
- In the 10 years since Days of Future Past, Stryker has been developing his own plan for how he wants to proceed re: the “mutant problem.”
- Apocalypse beings Stryker’s journey to becoming the villain we know him to be in the later films.
- When we first meet Storm she’s in Cairo, in survival mode picking pockets and thieving; the only mutants she’s ever known are bad mutants. Then she meets Apocalypse, who offers her a sense of belonging.
- Alexandra Shipp is doing a Kenyan accent for this version of Storm.
- Storm is alone, a foster child with huge potential, and in Apocalypse she finds a father figure who gives her purpose.
- Evan Peters spent 30 days in total shooting the new Quicksilver sequence, which filmed in pieces so they could go back and check and make sure each bit worked.
- Quicksilver knows who his father is in the movie and has been trying to find him for the last 10 years.
- Quicksilver has “cleaned up a bit” in Apocalypse, and isn’t quite the kleptomaniac we saw in Days of Future Past.
- There’s more Quicksilver in Apocalypse than there was in Days of Future Past; he has a more substantial role.
- Evan Peters describes this new Quicksilver sequence as a sequel, saying they took elements that worked and tried to improve upon them.
- No one would confirm or deny whether Hugh Jackman has a cameo in the film as Wolverine—out of everything, this was the tightest secret kept on set.