Even mutants get a little slaphappy sometimes. It's one of the last days of shooting on the Montreal set of 20th Century Fox's superhero epic ''X-Men: Days of Future Past,'' and stars Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Michael Fassbender (Erik Lehnsherr), and James McAvoy (Charles Xavier) are filming a tense scene onboard Charles' jet in 1973.
Between takes, the trio can't stop playfully punching each other in the arm. It's a game that their costar Jennifer Lawrence, who plays shape-shifter Mystique, brought with her from the Hunger Games set. The actors try to get their castmates to notice a subtle hand gesture basically the okay sign and if the gesturing actor succeeds in garnering someone's attention, he/she can punch that person in the arm. In today's installment, McAvoy is losing. Badly. "I feel like I'm being victimized here," he jokes.
From behind the monitors, director Bryan Singer, returning to the franchise he launched with 2000's X-Men and the sequel X2, admits the humor has gotten more and more puerile in these waning hours of the 89-day shoot. That's only natural given the pressure involved. With a $200 million-plus budget, Days of Future Past is the priciest and most complicated X-Men film to date. "I think this is the biggest movie Fox has made that James Cameron didn't direct," says producer-writer Simon Kinberg (X-Men: First Class).
It's not hard to see where the money went: Past, in which a distant-future Wolverine is sent back to the '70s to prevent war, combines the casts of both the first X-Men trilogy (Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, etc.) and 2011's prequel X-Men: First Class (McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence) in a time-travel story involving two time periods, six countries, and hundreds of giant killer robots. "We have to deliver, and that's really hard," says Lauren Shuler Donner, who's produced all of the X-Men films. "Plus, we don't use guns, we use powers. The power is a visual effect. So by its very nature it's going to be pricey."
This rich superhero stew is Fox's recipe to propel the X-Men franchise into the megaleagues. The Marvel property has amassed $2.3 billion worldwide for the studio over the course of six movies, including two spin-offs featuring Jackman's Wolverine. Believe it or not, that's a good-but-not-great number; Marvel's The Avengers alone grossed $1.5 billion (not to mention additional billions from its spin-off franchises). Making matters worse, First Class, Matthew Vaughn's 2011 kickoff to a planned trilogy, earned $354 million worldwide, the second-lowest-grossing X-Men movie to date.