CS reports from the X-Men: Apocalypse set
In a non-descript building in Montreal, Canada sits a paper storage facility. Bundles of paper sit in stacks. Some tied together by twine, others wrapped up in boxes. The musty smell of decades-old paper that has sat and sat lingers in your nose – this place does not see many visitors. Today, however, it not only sees myself and many of my colleagues walking its narrow corridors, but a cavalcade of mutants haunt the hallways, plotting something extraordinary. Production on the X-Men: Apocalypse set is in full swing, on its 56th day out of 84 total production days.
Inside a dimly-lit open area on the top floor, which is grungy and potentially tetanus-ridden, Michael Fassbender’s Magneto stands in a corner by himself. He whispers dialogue but we can’t hear it. The image of Fassbender on the monitor however is quite striking. The dark corridor is twisted with shadows, lights from cracks in the ceiling shine through and an eery green glow brightens up the corner. Though the image itself is a flat and static shot, the 3D on the monitor is impressive. We later learn that Magneto isn’t muttering to himself but instead is having a telepathic conversation with Charles Xavier regarding his allegiance in the film.
“I start off in Poland,” Fassbender says of Magneto’s beginning in the film, which picks up ten years after X-Men: Days of Future Past. “Erik is basically living a normal life, has a family, has fallen in love, and has basically disappeared for the last eight years or so. He doesn’t use his powers, has left that life behind and lives a sort of simple life… He does what he does so he can provide shelter and security for his family.”
Though Erik finds himself working in a factory, surrounded by machinery he could easily control without lifting a finger, the once mutant terrorist refuses to use his mutant powers anymore. Instead focusing on the physical labor, in what Fassbender calls “a form of penance.”
“Initially the first question was a question of Magneto,” writer and producer Simon Kinberg says of the script’s development. “A question of what we were going to do with the person who’s been traditionally the main villain of the franchise… We felt like it would be interesting if instead of a leader for once he was actually somewhat of a follower, and how powerful and sort of jarring that could be for the audience, and how powerful that could be within the arc evolution of Michael Fassbender as Magneto; it’s one thing he hasn’t done yet.”
Director Bryan Singer, who returns to helm his fourth film in this long-running franchise that he started, says that the journey of Magneto is a very big part of this film.
“He’s dropped stadiums on the White House, and to get him to a place where he’s ready to go there with this character, with Apocalypse. That was one of the biggest challenges and there’s a scene Fassbender does with this movie, you always wonder what’s going to make the cut, but he did something that we were pulling the Kleenex out in the tent. I’ve never had that happen on the set.”
While working away in Poland, Erik is confronted by the titular mutant of this film, En Sabah Nur, Apocalypse himself. When asked why now, seven films into the X-Men franchise, was the time to tell the Apocalypse story, director Bryan Singer said:
“Because it’s just so different. We’ve always tread this theme of mutants vs humans and Apocalypse has two aspects that make him such a different character than I’ve traditionally explored in the universe. One is that he makes no distinctions between humans and mutants. He’s interested in the Earth as a whole and the purity of civilization and the strongest. And secondly it deals with ancient mutantism, or the origins of the mutant state, or the origin of gods and religion. The X-Men universe has never touched upon any of those things and that stuff I loved when I was a kid.”
Apocalypse is the most elaborate looking character from an X-Men film, an entirely practical creation from the geniuses at Legacy FX. I pass Oscar Isaac in full make up as I walk down the hallway. He’s a little short for the most powerful mutant in the world, but he smiles at me as we pass each other.
The Apocalypse you’ll see in this summer’s film is an amalgamation of several different Apocalypses from the source material, not only the comic books but also the version from the fan-favorite cartoon series in the ’90s.
“I think the things that interested us the most—there are touches of some of the more controversial things, like his origin—but one of the things that interested us most was the notion of his being the first mutant and coming from a time when mutants were treated as gods,” Kinberg says. “And what it would be like for someone who experienced a world in which he was treated as a god, to go from that to a world in which he was treated at best as an equal, and at worst as less than, and how radical that would make that character in our modern world.”
Singer elaborated on what makes his Apocalypse so special and different from the villains we’ve seen on the big screen in other comic book movies. He’s not twirling his mustache and tying women to train tracks, and he’s not tricking an army into conquering the world for him. That’s small time for him.
“He to me is the God of the Old Testament, and all that comes with that. If there isn’t the order and the worship then he’ll open up the Earth and swallow you whole, and that was the God of the Old Testament. I started from there and when Oscar and I met we began discussing, since he isn’t really God, he’s the first mutant perhaps, but he’s not god necessarily, he’s imbued with certain unique powers. Some of them may or may not be from this Earth, we don’t know.”
Regarding those “unique powers,” Singer revealed that this version of Apocalypse has a habit of swapping bodies. The character, as described by the director, is “not a physical form, he’s an energy.” This is his means for staying around for the thousands of years he’s been on the planet and all of the civilizations he’s seen come and go. All that time Apocalypse has spent on Earth hasn’t been for naught – he uses it to collect the powers of his host bodies which leaves him with a buffet of abilities.
“One of them is to imbue other mutants and to heighten their powers and abilities beyond anything they ever imagined,” Singer explains. “Secondly he can shield from psychic powers, he can form shields so that it makes it harder for a psychic like Xavier to tap in and get to them. He’s not a psychic himself though. He can amplify your power, transform you as a mutant, but his ability to physically damage, destroy, or build is in the non-biological world. That’s in the physical world. He can change the inorganic molecules of things. These are some of the powers that we’re exploring and there’s some epic things that he does towards the end of the picture.”
Singer goes on to say that Apocalypse’s greatest power, however, isn’t anything that requires computer visual effects to show on screen, but the character’s charismatic persuasion. It is this tactic that he uses to recruit his four horsemen.
The film will begin in ancient Egypt where Apocalypse will have four horsemen to start with, but as this film continues and he finds himself in the 1980s, he’ll need four more. Fassbender’s Magneto fills one of those roles with Olivia Munn’s Psylocke, Alexandra Shipp’s Storm, and Ben Hardy’s Angel filling the remaining spots.
As Fassbender continues his “talk” with Charles Xavier in the corner, Apocalypse recruits Angel as the final member of his horsemen. He runs his hands across his shoulders and back, forming his new costume (a treat he gives each of the horsemen) and his new identity, Archangel. Isaac does the hand motions over and over again across several different takes and camera set ups, but since Angel’s wings are an entirely CG construction, it looks like he’s just giving him a nice pat on the shoulder at the time.
“We started looking at cults and the nature of cults,” Singer says of the horsemen. “Because cult leaders, true cult leaders, develop god complexes and he always traditionally had four horsemen so I thought a cult has traditionally four factions to it that interest me.”
Those factions, according to Singer, are: the political, which Magneto fills; the military, which Archangel holds up; the youth, regarding mailable minds for the future of the cult, which Storm fills; and finally the sexual component, which Psylocke will take on in the structure.
“I still feel like I just kind of won a radio contest,” Olivia Munn says of landing the role of Psylocke in the movie. “It’s like I called on the third Beyonce song of the hour and you get to be Psylocke. It’s very strange.”
The character of Psylocke was a late addition to the roster of characters in the film. Munn came to the mind of the film’s producers after she had previously tested for a role in the Deadpool movie, and then they stumbled upon all of the fan art already circulating the web.
“Bryan and I were sitting in Montreal and saying we should do Psylocke,” Kinberg reveals. “And I was like, ‘Dude, I just met with Olivia Munn two weeks ago. She’d be great.’ Then we looked at pictures of her online and I emailed her and I said, ‘I think this is a great character for you’ and she immediately emailed me back and sent me all this fan art online that fans had done of her as Psylocke.”
A version of Psylocke previously appeared on the big screen in X-Men: The Last Stand played by Mei Melançon, albeit in a very supporting role. Munn’s character will be an all-new version and won’t use the British accent that fans might hear in their head when they read the character in comics.
Another character we’ll be seeing a different version of in Apocalypse is Storm with Straight Outta Compton‘s Alexandra Shipp in the role that Halle Berry originated in the 1999 film.
“I’ve written like 30 draft emails,” Shipp said about talking to Berry about the character. “I’m like, ‘Alex, you can be cool about this. You can be cool, it’s cool, just be cool.’ Then I was like hoping that I would see her at Comic-Con and I didn’t and I was like a little sad and disappointed. I’m holding off because when I meet her I want to meet here and be like, ‘Oh my God, I love you!’”
Unlike Berry’s proper version of the character, Shipp’s Storm is a desperate orphan who is constantly in survival mode, using her powers to her advantage to steal from others.
Fans will finally see Storm at her roots in the film, where she begins in Cairo, speaking with a Kenyan accent, and is among the first people in the 1980s to see Apocalypse in the flesh.
“My first opening scene is you see me in Cairo, and Apocalypse’s speaking whatever ancient language because he’s just woken up and I’m speaking Arabic. I’m trying to communicate with him, and then he has this moment where he figures out where he is, what’s happened, what date it is, and he … Apocalypse doesn’t need to say much. All he has to do is just be like, ‘I’m here, I’m what you’ve been looking for.’ And you just feel it right in your gut, and you’re like, ‘Right, you are exactly what I’ve been looking for. You are exactly what I need right now.'”
As the day wraps up, Bryan Singer joins our group. To set us up for our second day on set, he takes his phone out of his pocket and pulls up a video, where we see some very familiar settings under going a disastrous change.