Last year's X-Men: Days of Future Past marked the triumphant return of director Bryan Singer to the franchise he helped start 15 years ago. Since then, the director has been hard at work crafting the next film in the series: X-Men: Apocalypse. The film promises to be the most expansive project thus far, introducing an array of new characters before bringing this chapter of the X-Universe to a close.
The film will introduce audiences to En Sabah Nur, also known the titular mutant Apocalypse, played by Oscar Isaac (Ex-Machina). Apocalypse is arguably the strongest single villain the X-Men have ever faced, with Isaac likening the character to God. As more information about the film is revealed, it's hard to argue with the comparison.
X-Men: Apocalypse also marks the return of screenwriter Michael Dougherty, who previously worked with Singer on X-Men 2. Speaking with IGN, Dougherty gave his own description of Apocalypse, detailing why viewers will empathize with the all-powerful antagonist:
"The idea that he sort of comes from a world where things might have been reversed, where mutants weren't a persecuted minority, that there was a period where they were considered supernatural deities, it's a fascinating premise. And what happens when that character, in sort of a Rip Van Winkle fashion, enters our world... it made that character not just a big guy hellbent on world domination, but it gave him a heart that I think we can all relate to."
In Fox's current X-Universe, mutants are both hated and feared by humanity. The film seems to be emphasizing this point as the motivation behind Apocalypse's crusade, rather than his general "survival of the fittest" philosophy from the comics. Apocalypse is a multi-faceted character, but it's hard to say he's ever been particularly empathetic. The film will have to take special care to keep the villain from falling into typical super villain tropes.
Singer has gone on record to say that this film will mark the "true birth of the X-Men," rebooting the universe and giving the series a fresh start. Dougherty seems to agree, but indicated that the writers aren't worried about future films just yet:
"We actually didn't talk that much about where things are going to head... We were really focused on just laying the groundwork for this film. And knowing that of course you're going to have an ending that opens itself up to more exploration. The X-Men universe is sort of built for that. It's built for growth."
However, Dougherty did drop one tantalizing hint about the franchise's possible future:
"Once you introduce young Jean Grey into a new X-Men film, where do you think it's going to go? It's gotta go in some directions, that's all I'm going to say."
The most famous storyline featuring Jean Grey is known as the Dark Phoenix Saga, created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. The story is a tragic tale of the corruption of Jean and the ultimate sacrifice she makes to atone for her monumental wrongdoings. It stands to this day as one of the finest X-Men stories ever told and is the first story Dougherty's comments bring to mind.
The ill-fated X-Men: The Last Stand attempted to incorporate some story elements of the Dark Phoenix Saga into the film, but the effort ultimately failed to impress viewers. With the X-Universe already altered by the events of Days of Future Past and set to be rebooted after Apocalypse, the creators behind the franchise have the chance to draw from that storyline again in future films. It's a unique opportunity and, done right, the adaptation could result in one of the most poignant superhero films to date.
X-Men: Apocalypse opens in theaters in the U.S. on May 27, 2016; Deadpool on February 12th, 2016; Gambit on October 7th, 2016; Wolverine 3 on March 3rd, 2017; Fantastic Four 2 on June 9th, 2017; and some as-yet unspecified X-Men film on July 13th, 2018. The New Mutants is also in development.