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X-Men: Apocalypse: Battle of the X's

A godlike villain plans to destroy the world, and Jennifer Lawrence is about to kiss Mystique goodbye

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Alan Markfield

With the new trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse out nowEW presents our July cover story on the new film in full.

Uninvited houseguests are the worst, especially when one of them is an evil immortal who definitely doesn’t bring a gift. That’s the dire situation on the set of X-Men: Apocalypse on this afternoon in late May. The scene today takes place in 1983, a decade after the events of Days of Future Past, and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), and Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) have gathered inside the halls of supercomputer Cerebro, unaware that they’re about to meet their most dangerous enemy yet. Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), a 5,000-year-old Egyptian mutant, suddenly teleports into Cerebro with his new recruits — Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Angel (Ben Hardy) — to force another mutant to join him: Charles. After the professor is pulled across the corridor in his wheelchair by Magneto, Apocalypse sizes up the remaining heroes and declares in a booming bass, “All will be revealed, my children.”

Well, technically, Mr. Supervillain, it won’t all be revealed until Apocalypse hits theaters on May 27 of next year, but at the moment the cast seems to be having a ball. Despite the heaviness of the scene being shot on this soundstage in Montreal, the mood is just shy of giddy. Munn (Magic Mike) chats about all the bruises she’s acquired doing wirework training to play the ninja-esque Psylocke, and the perils of her supertight violet ensemble. “Now it fits like a glove,” she says, and starts to laugh. “But on day one I was like, ‘Uh, guys, do we have a backup? Sorry, I popped my crotch.'” Meanwhile, Isaac — who’ll be seen zipping around the cosmos this December as Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens — strolls around the set in two hours’ worth of makeup and a 30-pound (unventilated) suit, which requires a personal cooling system that resembles a man purse. “I’m going shopping,” he deadpans. “Farmers’ market.”

The filmmakers had to do a little shopping of the X-Men universe itself to figure out what the follow-up to last summer’s Days of Future Past should be. That flashbacking film, which combined cast members from the first three movies (e.g., Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen) and those of the newer installments (e.g., McAvoy, Fassbender), raked in $750 million worldwide to become the franchise’s highest-grossing flick ever. How can you top not only those epic earnings but also the scope of that story line? “The problem with Days of Future Past is it’s hard to sequelize,” says writer-producer Simon Kinberg, who’s been with the franchise since 2006. “Whenever we talked about the sequel, the challenge was that it needed to feel not necessarily bigger visually, but that the stakes needed to feel bigger.” So not only does Apocalypse want to destroy the world — pretty big stakes — but the film that contains his name will serve as a pivot point in the series, shifting the focus toward younger versions of classic characters such as Storm, Jean Grey (Game of Thrones‘ Sophie Turner), and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan). “This is kind of the introduction to them,” says director Bryan Singer, returning for his fourth X-Men movie. “At the same time, it has concluding aspects of those previous stories.”

Days of Future Past ended with Raven (a.k.a. Mystique), Charles, and Erik Lehnsherr (a.k.a. Magneto) going their separate ways, and audiences got their first glimpse of Apocalypse in the film’s end credits. In a flashback, a younger version of the mutant was shown building pyramids telepathically while his minions, the Four Horsemen, looked on. “He’s believed to be the first mutant, whatever that means,” Isaac says. “He is the creative-slash-destructive force of this earth. When things start to go awry, or when things seem like they’re not moving towards evolution, he destroys those civilizations.” Think of him as a god who does gut renovations.

As Apocalypse opens, 10 years have passed and Raven, Charles, and Erik are still estranged, but not for much longer. The Big A awakens from his Egyptian tomb, sizes up the global ’80s vibe, and decides he’s not down with the Reagan era. “It’s a chaotic world of conflict and war and destruction,” Singer says. “It’s one giant civilization that now requires one giant culling. That’s why he needs special assistants in this process.” He finds teenage Storm living on the streets in Cairo, Angel duking it out in a fight club in Berlin, and Psylocke working behind the Iron Curtain for the mutant-broker Caliban. But his big get is Erik, who has been attempting to live a “normal” life in Poland. “He’s fallen in love and he’s basically left his metal ways behind,” Fassbender says. Pretty quickly, though, his world is shattered and “normal” is no longer an option. “Apocalypse finds Erik at a low ebb and recruits him,” Fassbender says. (On the upside, Apocalypse gives his Four Horsemen individual makeovers — branding really is everything! — so Magneto at least snares a sleek new suit out of the deal.)

Miles away, meanwhile, Raven is on her own, helping rescue mutants who are oppressed or enslaved, including the teleport Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Raven knows nothing about Apocalypse, Lawrence says, but “she hears about what happened to Erik and she wants to seek him out and help him.” This instigates a reunion between Raven and Charles, who has seen his school for extraordinary students flourish. “He’s not teaching anybody how to fight at the moment,” McAvoy says. “He’s teaching people how to control their abilities so that they can work at a bank. But of course this movie challenges all of that.” When Apocalypse’s plot to reboot the world is made clear, the stage is set for an epic mutant-vs.-mutant war. “That last battle is going to be pretty insane,” Isaac says. “I mean, it’s like freaking Apocalypse fighting all of the X-Men. It’s pretty cool.”

Singer had his own battle to contend with last year, when the director was accused of sexually abusing an actor named Michael Egan years earlier when Egan was a teen. Singer denied the accusation and Egan’s case eventually fell apart, but the scandal hit just as Past was opening and planning for Apocalypse was in full swing. Singer, now 49, says that he never thought about stepping away, nor was he asked to. “I love working,” he says. “This is what I love to do. Making films is something I’ve been doing since I was 13 years old. So to not do it just because of some bulls—, like complete, absolute bulls—, would be absurd.” The studio seemed to think so too. “The idea of anybody else directing Apocalypse didn’t enter our minds,” says producer Hutch Parker. “For all of us that knew Bryan, we were pretty confident that was all going to go away and be exposed for what that has been exposed as being.”

Now, though, the X-Men team may be losing one of its biggest stars. Lawrence, who’s ended her run as Katniss Everdeen in the final Hunger Games film, has said she’s also probably calling it quits on her blue shape-shifter, Mystique. “I love working with Bryan, and I love these movies,” she says. “It’s just the paint.” She was 20 when she signed on for X-Men: First Class, she says, and didn’t care about “fumes and toxins. Now I’m almost 25 and I’m like, ‘I can’t even pronounce this and that’s going in my nose? I’m breathing that?'” But she’s at least leaving a crack in the door as she exits. “There is hope,” she says. “I don’t want to not be asked.” In the meantime, it’s best not to ask the filmmakers about her possible departure. They’ve got more pressing matters to deal with. “I just wanna finish this movie and then figure out the next one,” Kinberg says. “But I do think about the next chapters of these stories. My hope is we can bring these guys back.” And if they couldn’t? “Then I would adjust.” Or, like a mutant, evolve.