The X-Men have seen some powerful foes over the years, but their greatest nemesis is on his way… well, technically, he already battled them in the past. If that sounds confusing, then you had better get used to it before X-Men: Apocalypse hits theaters, as the film will be twisting and turning in the timeline of the new X-Men series. A group of younger heroes will be doing battle with an ancient villain, but it’s his trusted soldiers who will grab the attention of devoted comic book fans.
For the uninitiated, it isn’t just Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) who the students and allies of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) will have to fight off, but his Four Horseman: War, Death, Famine, and Pestilence. In the comics, each appearance of ‘The First Mutant’ brings with him four new mutants recruited to the roles, with Apocalypse seeing them assigned to fan-favorites Storm, Psylocke, Archangel and, finally, the former ally/villain to Professor X, Magneto (Michael Fassbender).
We had an opportunity to speak with the cast and director during a trip to the X-Men: Apocalypse set in July, and asked the men and women behind these Horsemen to explain their characters’ motivations for joining Apocalypse’s mission – specifically, what would draw Magneto to such an indiscriminate, destructive role?
Not to mention get to the bottom of the question: who’s playing which Horseman?
The Four Horsemen
For starters, in speaking with members of the cast and crew, it seems that the comic convention – mutants with gifts of death, violence, hunger, or infection renamed to their corresponding member of the original Four Horsemen – isn’t the one being adhered to in the movie. Instead, Apocalypse’s first Horsemen, glimpsed in the post-credits scene of Days of Future Past, simply happened to be known as War, Death, Famine and Pestilence (with powers to match).
They may have become the most famous such fighters, but in the modern age, Apocalypse’s four minions are known by the names they’ve already chosen. And for fans of Marvel Comics, they’re not exactly supporting characters. But they aren’t just four random mutants; Bryan Singer explained that he and writer Simon Kinberg’s research into cults, like those which form around Apocalypse a.k.a. En Sabah Nur, provided the basis of the Four Horsemen:
“We started looking at cults and the nature of cults, because cult leaders, true cult leaders, develop god complexes and he always traditionally had four horsemen so I thought a cult has traditionally four factions to it that interest me. It has a political faction, and I’d always felt Magneto could fill those shoes. It always has a military faction, so Archangel could fill those shoes as the guardian. There’s also youth faction, those that you’re trying to seduce and grow into your cult, the young whose minds are malleable, and lastly the sexual component because cult leaders tend to sexualize their position and have sex with half the people in their cult.”
Storm and Psylocke round out the last two of those spots, continuing the tradition that two of Apocalypse’s four disciples will be male, and two female. The details about the original four were hard to come by (but what we did find out guarantees some fantastic character designs), so it’s the new four we’ll have to focus on.
It’s Ororo Munroe (Alexandra Shipp) who first meets Apocalypse when he wakes after millennia, and takes the first spot as his youthful, easily swayed apprentice. As much as Oscar Isaac may claim that the villain’s greatest power is his ability to turn others to his way of thinking, or turn them into pawns in his own plan, Shipp implies that when the two lost souls find one another, it isn’t evil that rears its head – at least not from Storm’s perspective:
It’s just pure love. I feel like when someone joins a cult, they end up becoming kindred spirits. They’re following the same thing. They all have the same goal which is Apocalypse… So what he is attracted to is their level and their magnitude of power. I think that his plan for her in the movie is to protect him. Protect him with fog. Protect him with lightening. Blow away a missile. Blow away a plane. There is so much that she can do, and what he’s looking for is protection because he just woke up after a couple thousands and thousand years. He’s weak and he’s alone, and he’s been betrayed, you know.
She admires him. She believes in him because for so long humans have treated her like crap. He is like, “Well in my day it was different”. She’s like, “Let’s get back to there, let’s get back to that.” She’s a weather goddess, you know. She’s a level, what is she, level 4, level 5 almost? She’s almost on Magneto’s level when it comes to her power.
Olivia Munn (The Newsroom) is tasked with bringing the heavily trained, psychic-blade-wielding killer Psylocke to life… with her barely-there costume fulfilling the “sexual” side of the cult, at least in sex appeal. But the actress pointed out that each of the Horseman is lost in some way, which is a fact that Apocalypse – like any other successful cult leader – is able to sense, and exploit to his own ends.
Of course, that doesn’t exactly mean that Psylocke is forced to do anything she doesn’t do willingly (unfortunately, the story of how she came to be recruited and re-costumed may not be given much screen time in the finished film). Munn explains:
That’s the amazing thing about cult leaders. They can really see when people are weak and how to prey on that and capitalize on that. You see that with Magneto and Storm and Angel and myself. We all are in a place where we’re really needing somebody to come in and say, “This is the way.”
[Apocalypse] first meets her and she’s the bodyguard. She’s got this amazing skill and she has zero fear when she goes against him, so he needs her. What he sees in her is that she is someone who can protect and has no fear and is an amazing fighter and has amazing abilities. She’s doing things because she wants to do them. She’s like, “I want to join you. You haven’t fooled me into joining you. I get it, I see what you’re doing, and I want to be part of it.” In the end, they manipulate her, but it’s always her choice to join it.
As a figure capable of bringing together lost souls, Apocalypse doesn’t have much work to do with Erik Lensherr a.k.a. Magneto. Following his public defeat and humiliation in the final act of Days of Future Past, Erik has taken sanctuary in Europe, and begun to carve out a new life for himself. And for the time being, has been proven wrong: hate, fear, and intimidation may not be the most powerful of human (read: non-mutant) emotions. Until he once again loses everything.
At that point, all bets are off. And with nothing but anger to rely on – and a track record of faulty plans to unleash it on humanity – Apocalypse’s offered hand, and an invitation to his amplified Horsemen couldn’t come at a better point, says Fassbender
At that moment where things are being taken away from him again in Poland it’s almost like he’s looking for an answer, or he’s challenging God, it’s like, “What do you want from me? I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried to lead a good life. I’ve tried to do it correctly, whatever that is, and now you do this to me so what do you want?” It’s sort of like a challenge to God, if he’s out there, and then Oscar’s character arrives.
He arrives and it’s like, “Okay well something much more powerful than me has arrived,” in a way kind of like a god; he’s the original mutant. And I think… Magneto doesn’t really follow anyone, so it was kind of a hard thing like, well how does he just become one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen, and is he cool with that? But he appreciates that this guy is going to do what he couldn’t do. He’s got just so much more power than him, he’s such an immense force. In a way, it’s like that classic thing of joining any cult or radical group, he’s caught him at a very low, vulnerable point where he doesn’t really care anymore whether he dies or not or what happens, so he’s like, “Yeah I’ll join this guy. I’ll go on this path of judgment.”
And finally, we arrive at one of the most memorable of Apocalypse’s Horsemen, in the comics at least: Warren Worthington III a.k.a. Angel (Ben Hardy). Although we didn’t get a chance to hear from Hardy about Angel’s motivations or reason for joining the villain, it’s easy enough to guess. The character’s wings were a minor plot point in X-Men: The Last Stand, with the boy having a difficult time coming to terms with his mutant appendages.
We did, however, get to observe a scene in which Apocalypse ‘recruits’ Warren to his Horsemen, molding his custom armor with waves of his hands, and of course, the telekinetic transformation of Archangel’s wings into metallic blades of death (potentially, anyway). Driving home the idea of both a cult and a family, Psylocke, Magneto and Storm are all present for the ceremony, as explained by Shipp:
“We just filmed a scene where we bring Angel, and Angel’s our final horsemen, and he’s getting his suit made, and he and I have this moment where we look at each other and I just smile at him. It’s not anything sexual and it’s not anything like, “Yeah babe”. It’s kind of just like a … You know, where you’re just like, “This is cool, this is awesome, we’re together on this. We are going to take on these people. I don’t know who these X-Men are, I don’t know who this Xavier dude is. We’re going to beat him up. We’re going to win. I shoot lightning.”
There’s no doubt that Apocalypse has chosen four very powerful, and very different mutants for his latest incarnation of his Four Horseman. But they may not stay villains for long, as Shipp and Munn both alluded to the fact that their loyalty to Apocalypse was based on little other than manipulation and the absence of an actually strong role model in mutant-ing. Could their priorities or perspectives change once they actually meet the X-Men? We’ll just have to wait and see.
For more quotes and reveals from our X-Men: Apocalypse set visit, check out the links below:
- X-Men: Apocalypse’s Quicksilver Scene May Top Future Past’s
- X-Men: Apocalypse – Storm’s New African Origin Details
- Bryan Singer Teases X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alien Connections & Future
- How The X-Men Franchise Connects and can Reboot Infinitely
What do you think of these assessments of the Four Horseman? Do you like the changes to the comic book story, or would you prefer that the original be adhered to? Share your thoughts in the comments, and let us know what other mutants or plot twists might, or should play a role in the next chapter of the series.
Deadpool opens in theaters February 12, 2016; X-Men: Apocalypse on May 27, 2016; Gambit sometime in 2017; Wolverine 3 on March 3, 2017; and an unannounced X-Men film on July 13, 2018. The New Mutants is also in development.