“I’m a huge ‘Game Of Thrones’ fan,” director of ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ Bryan Singer tells Yahoo Movies on the set of the forthcoming X-sequel.
“There’s a crossover between ‘X-Men’ and ‘Game Of Thrones’, they’re both about a younger generation finding their powers, finding out who they are, and what their place in the world is. I like how the show’s about different groups of people moving towards a common goal. They don’t even know if that’s the right goal, who wants to sit on that uncomfortable throne? I don’t! Everyone in King’s Landing is miserable. But for some reason they want that power.”
July, 2015, Montreal, Canada. We’re watching a bald man loom out of the shadows in a stone room, somewhere in a violent foreign land. Emotion wracks his face, and a solitary tear trickles down his cheek. We brace ourselves to hear the iconic line “The horror, the horror" before remembering we’re not actually on the set of ‘Apocalypse Now’, but ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’. We’re not seeing Marlon Brando shoot a key scene as Colonel Kurtz, but James McAvoy’s Professor X. His head’s shaved for accuracy, not madness. But we’re not the only ones to spot a similarity.
“We talked about Kurtz and the lighting of that reveal [in ‘Apocalypse Now’],” Singer tells us. “Obviously, they did it for that character because Brando showed up so fat Coppola didn’t know how to introduce him, and he thought ‘I’ll do it very slowly and gradually and hide the body’ because it might be a shock to the audience. There was a practicality, which ended up being a piece of magnificent artistry, with one of the greatest improvised monologues in film history. Here, there’s nothing that direct, but we do laugh about it looking through the monitor.”
Of course, it’s not every day you hear a director compare their superhero project to one of the most adult shows on television, and to one of the darkest war movies of the ‘70s, but it appears ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ is a very different beast to its predecessors.
Watch the ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ trailer below…
“There’s a lot more destruction and loss in this film that we’ve had in the previous movies,” writer Simon Kinberg says. “We weren’t afraid to go to darker, heavier places than we’ve done in these films before.”
That’s probably to be expected in a movie with a villain named after the complete final destruction of the world. But, forget annihilating the planet, if Singer and his team get Apocalypse wrong, the titular mutant could destroy the movie. “He’s tricky for a couple of reasons,” Kinberg notes. “One is that he’s a bigger character, in terms of the stakes and visual scale, than anything we’ve seen before in these kinds of movies. To do that and not feel like we’re betraying the grounded and dramatic tone of these films is a hard balance to strike.”
Singer sees another major difference in involving Apocalypse. “X-Men films have traditionally been about the conflict between humans and mutants. This movie is about a villain who comes from an ancient time who doesn’t understand he’s a mutant, he thinks of himself as more of a god. He doesn’t distinguish between mutants and humans, only between the weak and the strong. So, suddenly, it forces a world which, since 1973 at the end of ‘Days Of Future Past’, now embraces and accepts mutants, it forces them into a place where they have to work together.”
This might be the furthest Singer’s moved away from the previous films, but some things never change. Taking a break from watching McAvoy cry on cue for take after take, we stroll through the X-Mansion set, instantly feeling like we’ve stepped straight into the cinema screen the original ‘X-Men’ film was projected onto fifteen years ago.
The Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters will be a key location for the movie (“In ‘Jurassic World’ they said ‘The park is open’ well, here it’s ‘The school is open,’” Singer tells us), and it’s beautifully constructed, built practically - to scale - with the only element ruining the illusion coming when we peer through through corridor doorways, seeing only crew members standing in unconstructed classrooms outside.
The level of detail is intense. Easter egg Xs are scattered everywhere, with even a main staircase built to resemble a giant X. But we’re not the first gifted youngsters to be impressed by the school. A returning (albeit younger) character has already been awed by these same surroundings. “We discover Nightcrawler in East Berlin, where he has to queue to get a loaf of bread,” Singer tells us.
“Through happenstance, merely because Raven needs him as a kind of taxi service because he can move really fast, he finds himself in America, in the X-Mansion, which to him is a paradise.”
The actor playing baby Nightcrawler, Kodi Smit-McPhee (speaking to us following three-hours in make-up) had a similar feeling when he stepped into the school set for the first time. “I couldn’t keep up with my excitement, it hits you so fast. I’m trying to be in professional mode, but looking around Xavier’s School made me realise what I’m doing.”
We look around Xavier’s School some more, exploring every nook and cranny of Prof X’s office. We spot a couple of Atlas-themed book-ends, with two muscular men carrying planets on their backs. It makes us flashback to that dark room, where we saw McAvoy cry. If ever there was a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, it’s James McAvoy’s Professor X. So, we grab McAvoy for a quick chat between sobs, and ask him about the emotions he’s experiencing.
“It’s the end of three stories. Raven is on the verge of death. For me, I see Jennifer [Lawrence] on the verge of death. And I’ve known Jennifer and Raven for five years now, and I love them both. Peter [Maximoff] is on the verge of torture and death, and I feel that too. Erik and Michael, they’re on the edge of this pivotal moment in their life, and I feel all this. I’ve got a good enough imagination that I can place my friends and these characters I’ve shared five years with in these situations, and it’s f***ing horrible.
What sets ‘X-Men’ apart for me is that it is fun, it is a glib, flippant and throwaway popcorn movie sometimes, but the relationships are so strong it creates this emotional space in which big things are felt. It wasn’t just the weight of the world I was feeling. It was the death of the world.”
The horror, the horror.
‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ will be released in 3D on May 19, 2016
Image credits: 20th Century Fox