With the upcoming May release of X-Men: Apocalypse, the latest in the long-running superhero franchise of films, you might find yourself asking just what the f**k is going on with this cinematic universe. And you’re not the only one. Here are five things that might help you prepare for the film.
1. The X-Men Timeline is Messy, But That Makes Your Life Easier
The X-Men film franchise is huge at this point: eight films spanning 16 years. One could be forgiven for forgetting what happened way back in that first trilogy of films, and the fact of the matter is no-one needs to think about them anymore in terms of continuity. Given Days of Future Past‘s time travel bent, things are undoubtedly confusing with continuity and timeline, but this Collider article clears up the issue fairly concisely.
The skinny is this: just because Professor X, Magneto, and all your lovable mutant pals are alive in the original X-Men, which takes place chronologically after X-Men: Apocalypse, doesn’t mean they are out of the woods for this film. Some plot points may converge into those that occurred in the original trilogy, others will take a complete left turn. What this means is, the stakes are real here, for every mutant.
In the Collider article, Singer playfully delves into quantum mechanics and the immutability of time, but I’ll let you read up on that on your own. The easiest way to visualize it is that Days of Future Past essentially created two diverging timelines beginning in 1973, where the old films comprise one timeline and all of the films released from this point on are in another. Just know that, for the sake of this film, it is more important to be well-versed in First Class and Days of Future Past than X2 and Last Stand.
2. To Add to All The Confusion, There are Two Cinematic Universes in Play
The X-Men films do not belong to what has been dubbed the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” (MCU). The MCU is the flagship brand of Marvel films you know and love–your Captain Americas, your Iron Mans, your Avengers. This MCU is run by Disney. X-Men, on the other hand, is owned by 20th Century Fox. As such, they are competing cinematic entities.
What this means is, characters can cross over to a certain extent between the two universes, but they are not the same character. The only tangible example we’ve seen of this so far is the introduction (and, spoiler, the demise) of Quicksilver in last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Quicksilver, introduced in the X-Men franchise in Days of Future Past, is played by Evan Peters. In Avengers, the character is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. In X-Men, Quicksilver is Magneto’s son. In Avengers, that most likely is not the case. In both, they are super fast, as is their power.
What is important to take away from this if you were not aware of this bifurcated universe is that the two characters live in entirely different cinematic worlds, and thus are ostensibly different characters altogether.
3. Apocalypse is an Incredibly Powerful Supervillain
For those of you not well-versed in the X-Men comic universe (don’t worry, you’re not alone), Apocalypse (aka En Sabah Nur) is a major supervillain in the X-Men world. Originating from Egypt (hence the Days of Future Past end credits stinger), he is the first known mutant in the universe, and is effectively immortal. That’s right, he can’t die. As such, we’re probably going to see some mutant good guys go down in this movie, and go down hard.
The trailers also seem to show this showdown with the personified end-times as further bisecting the mutant world into two factions, the classic good and evil sides we know and love. This is likely aided by Apocalypse’s ability to bend the will of those weaker than him.
The trailers for Apocalypse make mention of the “Four Horsemen” that will serve as Apocalypse’s henchmen in the film. They are Death, Famine, War, and Pestilence. Now, IMdB makes mention of a Death in the credits (Monique Ganderton), which is confusing because the trailers set up (and Oscar Isaac has confirmed) that the Four Horsemen will be Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), (Arch?)Angel (Ben Hardy), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). So I couldn’t say who Monique Ganderton is playing. She’s a stunt performer, so for all we know she’s the stunt double for Olivia Munn or a second character dubbed Death or an earlier incarnation of the Four Horsemen member of a later incarnation of the Four Horsemen member.
Apocalypse may prove to be the deadliest foe the X-Men have faced on the silver screen, and I’m looking forward to it.
4. We Have Some New Young Versions of Old Favorites
X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past introduced time travel into the X-Men universe both to reset the timeline (thereby rebooting the series), and to cast younger actors in the roles that were being filled by older actors (thereby rebooting the series).
We have Jean Grey portrayed by Sophie Turner (earlier by Famke Janssen). She is telepathic and telekinetic, and died in The Last Stand, even though at that time she was really Phoenix, but that is a needlessly complicated thing to explain here. Just know that Wolverine and Cyclops both have pasts with Jean.
As for Cyclops, he is portrayed in Apocalypse by Tye Sheridan (earlier by James Marsden). His eyes shoot red bolts of energy that can be devastating and wears protective glasses or an eye shield to keep them in check.
We also get a young Storm, portrayed by Alexandra Shipp (earlier by Halle Berry). Storm can, you know, make storms.
Lastly, there is Angel, portrayed by Ben Hardy (earlier by Ben Foster) —he has wings—and Nightcrawler, portrayed by Kodi Smit-McPhee (earlier by Alan Cummings)—he is blue, has a tail, and teleports in a literal puff of smoke.
Essentially, these are the actors (along with the established characters of James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, and Michael Fassbender, among others) who we can expect to helm future X-Men films.
5. Confusion Aside, You Still Have to Kind of Care About the Earlier Films
What you do need to have seen Days of Future Past (and others) for are characters. Because, boy are there characters.
One person we see glimpses of in the trailer (who is now all the more important given that sneaky little claw hand we see at the end of the final trailer) is William Stryker.
Stryker exists in both alternate timelines, to differing degrees of importance. In the original timeline, he is pivotal in that he is the person who brought Logan into the Weapon X program, infusing him with adamantium and making him the gruff, metal-clawed, psychologically destroyed man we know and love in the original X-Men.
Stryker is also the main baddie in X2, where he organizes a raid on the mutant academy, stealing away some mutants in the process to the Alkali Lake Facility, where Weapon X was first initiated. This proved to be a dumb idea, because he was chained to a helicopter and drowned by a broken dam.
With the new timeline, this entire scenario may never happen, but this Gizmodo article makes the smart point that the trailer looks like Stryker is up to his same old tricks in Apocalypse, given that the mansion is seen exploding and Stryker appears to be traveling back to Alkali Lake. Whatever the case may be, I would say it’s a safe bet that Wolverine and Stryker will show down (again), and perhaps Stryker will die, sealing up that nagging plotline before it gets all the more convoluted.
Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but given that we see Wolverine’s metal claws, is it safe to assume that Stryker put Logan through the Weapon X program in this new timeline, as well. Because, how else would he go from bone to metal?
Guys, as visually engaging and relatively interesting as these movies are, isn’t it time we admitted that the X-Men timeline needs a complete reset. Not a time-travel paradox, alternate timeline reset, but a literal apocalypse reset. Writing this article, I have grown more confused than I was at the start. I really thought I knew what was going on coming into this thing. Now I realize I have to deal with new characters and remember old ones that were only in a scene or two of one of the movies. And the old timeline doesn’t really matter, but you won’t understand the full picture of what is going on if you don’t know about it. I hate to say it, but I might be rooting for Apocalypse to win this one.
Also, it seems that, no matter what, something s***ty happens to the X-Men roughly every ten years; you’d think they’d catch onto the pattern at some point.
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)