The end i s nigh i n X- Men: A poca­lypse. Ian Ber­ri­man i s on set a s the mu­tants f ace t heir great­est t hreat yet...

SFX - - X-men : apocalypse - X- Men: Apoc­a­lypse opens on 19 May.

All the old paint­ings on the tombs, they do the sand dance, don’tcha know… Sorry, SFX is suf­fer­ing from a bad case of a Ban­gles ear­worm. We’re stand­ing at the san­daled feet of a gi­ant jackal- headed statue – just one of four that tower 25- 30 feet above us in a vast tem­ple cham­ber. On the walls, friezes de­pict war­riors armed with spears and bird- headed gods hold­ing ankhs. The left- brain in­sists this is a movie set, but gaz­ing around it’s easy to get swept up in the il­lu­sion. We could be 6,000 years ago, trans­ported to an­cient Egypt. Well, if you ig­nore the ply­wood steps on the way, the scaf­fold­ing and the plas­tic sheet­ing pro­tect­ing pan­els of hi­ero­glyph­ics – one of which our guide pulls back to re­veal an amus­ing de­tail: the fa­mil­iar shape of the X- Men logo. It’s day 31 of 84 of prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy on

X- Men: Apoc­a­lypse, and we’re at Mel’s Stu­dio in Mon­treal. Catch­ing up with di­rec­tor Bryan Singer and screen­writer Si­mon Kin­berg later, there’s one thing we sim­ply have to clear up: what’s with those hi­ero­glyph­ics? Has Pro­fes­sor Xavier been trav­el­ling back in time to dis­pense in­te­rior de­sign tips?

“It means noth­ing,” Singer laughs, “It’s an in­side joke. By the way, there are many more. There’s a hi­ero­glyph of a guy chok­ing a chicken – you missed that! I don’t know what that means in an­cient Egyp­tian…”

While such de­tails may not be sig­nif­i­cant, the an­cient Egyp­tian set­ting cer­tainly is. It’s there we first en­counter the Big Bad for this clos­ing in­stal­ment of the pre­quel tril­ogy that be­gan with First Class: the tit­u­lar Apoc­a­lypse, whose be­lated in­tro­duc­tion is an ex­cit­ing de­vel­op­ment for fans of the comics. First seen in 1986, in X- Fac­tor # 5, he’s the first mu­tant, born 5,000 years ago and en­dowed with god- like pow­ers. A key arc of the ’ 90s, Age Of

Apoc­a­lypse, saw him con­quer­ing an al­ter­nate Amer­ica rad­i­cally re­shaped by Pro­fes­sor Xavier’s death. Though X- Men: Apoc­a­lypse

won’t tell that story, its topsy- turvy take on the X- uni­verse has in­flu­enced Singer’s think­ing when it comes to char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion.

“If you look at Age Of Apoc­a­lypse, ev­ery­one’s roles are re­versed,” he ex­plains. “I can’t quite tackle that en­tire 50- plus book uni­verse, but what I can do is find char­ac­ters at places they were not at when we met them in X- Men.”

The look of the ’ 80s X- Men comics is an­other key in­flu­ence, Si­mon Kin­berg tells us.

“Vis­ually, there’s a ton from the ’ 80s comics, in the colour of the cos­tumes and some of the other aes­thet­ics of the char­ac­ters. We wanted it to look and feel dif­fer­ent from the other movies – to be a unique ex­pe­ri­ence.”

time man­age­ment

And there’s good rea­son to homage the era of the Ru­bik’s Cube and Rea­gan. When we last vis­ited the X- uni­verse, it was 1973. Leap­ing for­ward an­other decade, this film sees Apoc­a­lypse wak­ing in 1983, af­ter lying dor­mant for cen­turies. And he’s a mite peeved.

“He’s a guy that went to sleep thou­sands of years ago, in a world that – in his mind – was mov­ing to­wards pu­rity or per­fec­tion,” Kin­berg ex­plains. “Then he wakes up in the most cor­rupted, pol­luted, dis­gust­ing time in our his­tory – 1983! He’s look­ing around at the ’ 80s like, ‘ What the hell hap­pened to my world? I’m gonna fix it.’ And for him, fix­ing it means wip­ing it out and start­ing over.”

It’s a point of view far re­moved from the strug­gle for supremacy which pow­ered the agen­das of Mag­neto and Se­bas­tian Shaw.

“The no­tion of mu­tant vs man is not that in­ter­est­ing to him,” Kin­berg ex­plains. “He doesn’t care about that. It’s like if you came back, as a grown- up, to your child­hood home and it was over­run with all kinds of aw­ful­ness – you’d be up­set! So an as­pect of his

We wanted it to look and feel dif­fer­ent from the other movies – to be a unique ex­pe­ri­ence

mo­ti­va­tion is hope­fully hu­man and emo­tional. The thing that we spent the most time on in con­ceiv­ing the movie was mak­ing sure that even though he’s a larger- than- life vil­lain there was still some­thing emo­tion­ally grounded in him, and re­lat­able.”

Star Wars’ Poe Dameron, Os­car Isaac, is the man play­ing god.

“He has a great philo­soph­i­cal way of look­ing at things,” Singer says of his star, ad­mir­ingly. “We both saw eye to eye on the char­ac­ter, equat­ing it to lead­ers of cults. To me, Apoc­a­lypse is a god of the Old Tes­ta­ment, a venge­ful god. When he came to be, men were beat­ing each over the heads with rocks for a piece of meat, and he brought civil­i­sa­tion. He be­lieves mankind owes him wor­ship, and if he doesn’t get it he’ll swal­low them up through the earth – and he can do it! But I think Apoc­a­lypse’s great­est power is per­sua­sion”.

It’s Apoc­a­lypse’s sil­ver tongue which en­ables him to re­cruit a mu­tant “Four Horse­men” to aid him in lay­ing waste to our idol­a­try.

“When Os­car and I stud­ied cults, what I got from that was that ev­ery cult has four el­e­ments,” Singer ex­plains. “There’s a po­lit­i­cal el­e­ment, so I chose Mag­neto; a mil­i­tary el­e­ment, so I chose an an­gry char­ac­ter, An­gel; the youth el­e­ment for in­doc­tri­na­tion – that’s young Storm; then a sex­ual com­po­nent – y’know, most cult lead­ers sleep with half their con­gre­ga­tions – that’s Psy­locke.”

If any­thing demon­strates the force of Apoc­a­lypse’s charisma, it’s surely that Mag­neto is will­ing to bow the knee and do his bid­ding.

“That was chal­leng­ing,” Singer reveals, “his sto­ry­line – how he comes to a place where he’s vul­ner­a­ble for in­doc­tri­na­tion by Apoc­a­lypse.”

The so­lu­tion: giv­ing the em­bit­tered Erik Lehn­sh­err a fam­ily. In the comics, Mag­neto

The thing we spent most time on was mak­ing sure there was still some­thing grounded in Apoc­a­lypse

mar­ried his wife Magda af­ter res­cu­ing her from Auschwitz; later she fled af­ter he re­vealed his pow­ers while fail­ing to save their daugh­ter from dy­ing in a fire. In Apoc­a­lypse the two meet much later, but it sounds like the re­la­tion­ship is sim­i­larly doomed...

“He’s liv­ing off the grid as a reg­u­lar guy,” Singer says. “He’s gone to Poland. He’s worked among hu­mans in anonymity. Sud­denly that’s dis­rupted and he’s forced to re­turn to his old ways, but in a very dif­fer­ent way – an al­most apoc­a­lyp­tic and tragic way.”

back to the comics

A grin­ning Pro­fes­sor X is thrust­ing away at Cy­clops from be­hind, like an over- sexed Labrador. No, this isn’t a rad­i­cal rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of the char­ac­ter dy­nam­ics; Jean Grey doesn’t have a ri­val for the young Scott Sum­mers’s af­fec­tions – it’s just James McAvoy hors­ing around in- be­tween takes. As the set- up’s be­ing blocked for light­ing pur­poses, it’s ac­tu­ally a dou­ble bear­ing a strip of tape with “Scott” scrawled on it who’s the un­wit­ting re­cip­i­ent of a mo­men­tary Xavier air- hump­ing, not new­comer Tye Sheri­dan.

SFX has tele­ported ( okay, taken a minibus…) to a dusty, dis­used in­dus­trial fa­cil­ity – once, trains were re­paired here – to ob­serve Xavier, Scott and Jean hid­ing out from Apoc­a­lypse in a small, dingy room in Cairo. We see them crash­ing to the floor, rolling over, and look­ing round – rocked by an ex­plo­sion, per­haps, or just trans­ported here? An­other mo­ment sees Charles re­act­ing to a voice boom­ing his name – Apoc­a­lypse? A third sees Scott robot­i­cally ad­vanc­ing on his com­rades, as if un­der con­trol… Over the course of sev­eral hours we only get a brief glimpse of Singer, who’s present mostly as a god- like PA voice. We catch brief snatches float­ing on the wind: “Jean senses this… get­ting killed by Apoc­a­lypse”. In­be­tween the seem­ingly end­less suc­ces­sion of takes, Game Of Thrones’ So­phie Turner sits cross- legged on the floor, while McAvoy un­fas­tens his wrist­watch ( dig­i­tal, natch), spins it around on his fin­ger, fas­tens it again, then re­peats. Though th­ese aren’t key scenes, it’s still a thrill to wit­ness the ad­vent of some­thing X- fans have long an­tic­i­pated: James McAvoy fi­nally rock­ing a chrome dome!

“In each of the other films, we talked about it,” Kin­berg reveals. “There was a scene in First Class where he went bald. In one draft of Days

Of Fu­ture Past he was bald­ing over the span of the movie. It just never felt right, for what­ever rea­son. Here, it’s tied to some­thing nar­ra­tively, and also it was the end of this tril­ogy. So it felt like the right time.”

It’s also fas­ci­nat­ing to see new­com­ers Sheri­dan and Turner in ac­tion as the young

Scott and Jean. It’s a re­minder that there’s so much go­ing on in Apoc­a­lypse. Not only does it in­tro­duce the most pow­er­ful threat our heroes have faced, and bring the cur­tain down on this tril­ogy, but it re­freshes the fran­chise as First

Class did, by bring­ing in new blood to play younger ver­sions of iconic char­ac­ters – not only Jean and Scott but also Storm ( Alexan­dra Shipp) and Nightcrawler ( Kodi Smit- McPhee). It all goes back to what Singer said ear­lier, about the in­flu­ence of Age Of Apoc­a­lypse.

“Every­body’s dif­fer­ent from how they are as the older char­ac­ters,” he ex­plains. “Cy­clops, who’s des­tined to be­come Xavier’s right- hand man, is this to­tal ne’er- do- well, a com­plete fuck- up in school. Jean Grey is this young girl who has no idea what’s grow­ing in­side her, this tremen­dous power that she doesn’t even un­der­stand. And young Storm… wow, she’s a vil­lain! So you get to see our heroes from X- Men

1- 3 as com­pletely dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters. I think that’s go­ing to be re­ally fun for an au­di­ence.”

It’s a re­cur­ring theme in our con­ver­sa­tion with the di­rec­tor. This may be the ninth X- Men movie ( count­ing Dead­pool!), but Singer in­sists that it’ll feel fresh, and sug­gests he’s achieved that by go­ing back to the well with the comics.

“I’m try­ing to bring things we haven’t seen be­fore. All dif­fer­ent kinds of things. Ways to shoot Cere­bro we haven’t seen be­fore. The looks of char­ac­ters, and them do­ing things they haven’t done be­fore in movies. So I look to the comics. This is… how many X- Men movies have I been in­volved in?” So many that he has to start count­ing aloud. “One, two, three… With First Class I wrote the story, so yeah, it’s five. So for me, I can’t do the same things!”

Watch out Jean Grey, there’s a lorry be­hind you!

The past’s so bright you’ve got to wear shades.

“I want you to man­i­fest your su­per­pow­ers like this!”

Char­ac­ters no 84 and 85… keep­ing up?

Will Quick­sil­ver steal this movie too?

Kodi Smit- McPhee slips into Nightcrawler’s skin.

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