Apocalypse is coming for the X-Men. Or, more specifically, a giant 5,000 year-old Egyptian mutant who goes by that very unfriendly name and is the focus of the latest installment in Fox’s X-Men franchise. “He’s believed to be the first mutant, whatever that means,” says star Oscar Isaac. “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.
Also consider him the creative team’s way of topping the previous X-Men film, the epic Days of Future Past. That flashbacking film combined both casts of the original franchise (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, etc.) with the newer castmembers (Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy) and became the top-grossing entry in the series with $750 million worldwide. “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 (Alexandra Shipp), 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.”
In this week’s cover story, EW is on the set for your first look at next summer’s comic book blockbuster. As the new film opens, 10 years have passed and Raven (Lawrence), Charles (McAvoy), and Erik (Michael Fassbender) 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 (Ben Hardy) duking it out in a fight club in Berlin, and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) 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. Says Fassbender, “Apocalypse finds Erik at a low ebb and recruits him.”
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.