Does anyone have a more awesome film career right now than writer-producer Simon Kinberg? Not only is he involved in the new Star Wars universe and co-creator of Star Wars Rebels, but he’s also one of the custodians of Fox’s Marvel Comics movies and TV properties. He has to keep a LOT of complex plots and storylines in his head, but speaking with him last summer in Montreal on the set of X-Men: Apocalypse, it’s clear he knows it all by heart. He gave us some inside scoops about the story and what we can all expect when the movie hits theaters on May 27.
“It takes place in 1983, ten years after the end of the past part of Days of Future Past,” Kinberg began, setting the stage for the new film. “Everybody has gone in different directions—Charles [Xavier, played by James McAvoy] has ended up back at the mansion with Hank [McCoy, Nicholas Hoult] and a new class of students, including Jean [Grey, Sophie Turner] and eventually a young Scott [Summers, Tye Sheridan]; Erik [Lensherr, Michael Fassbender] is essentially living in hiding on the other side of the world in Europe, starting a very different life than we’ve ever seen his character live before. He’s not a villainous Magneto, he’s actually a man who’s trying to sort of live a normal life. And Raven [a.k.a. Mystique, Jennifer Lawrence] is also living her own separate life almost like a mutant freedom fighter.”
It’s not only the characters that have changed drastically. Kinberg told us that, following the events of Days of Future Past, mutantkind have been exposed and the world at large now knows all about them. But it’s actually not as bad as you might assume. “[Mutants] have been mostly accepted by the world,” Kinberg explained. “So it’s less of a time of fear and hatred and more of a time of acceptance with some prejudice still under the surface, and some suffering still under the surface as well.” The writer also told us that stopping this prejudice and suffering is what Mystique has devoted herself to when the story begins.
After essentially resetting the X-Men universe in the last film, it’s no longer a direct trajectory toward the first movie in 2000. “That was part of the philosophy we had at the end of Days of Future Past,” says Kinberg. “You can’t fully change the course or current of the river, but you can just divert it a little bit, and we diverted it a little bit. So some things will be surprises; people could die that were alive in X-Men 1, 2 and 3, or people could survive that died during 1, 2 and 3.”
There are many new characters joining the X-universe in X-Men: Apocalypse and also quite a few who are arriving as younger versions of the characters we met in the original trilogy. For Kinberg, the decision of which characters to add started with knowing Apocalypse was going to be the villain, and that Jean, Scott, and Storm (played by Alexandra Shipp) were going to be the main young mutants. “For me, Scott and Jean’s arcs are very connected to Charles and to Raven,” Kinberg shared. “Charles is the sort of father figure for them at the beginning of the movie, and Raven is ultimately a leader for them going forward. It has to all feel like it’s connecting emotionally, thematically.
“And then we build the story from there,” he continued. “What are the plot points of the story? When does the villain emerge? What does the villain want? How does the villain get in power? How does the villain get super-empowered and then taken down? That’s the basic plotline of every story in history, certainly superhero story.” The fun part, he said, comes when you can start plugging in other characters, and not every character we’ll see in the movie was planned from day one. “For instance,” Kinberg said, “Psylocke was quite a late addition to the script and the movie. Bryan Singer and I were up here in Montreal and we felt like we needed a different Horseman, and we just started going through the cycling of the different Apocalypse Horseman over history. We felt like we wanted it to be a female character and we pretty quickly settled on Psylocke.”
Kinberg also shared that the casting of Olivia Munn happened very quickly thereafter, stemming from a chance meeting while Kinberg was in Los Angeles casting for Deadpool. “Bryan and I were sitting in Montreal a few weeks later and saying we should do Psylocke and I was like, ‘Dude, I just met with Olivia Munn two weeks ago. She’d be great.’ Then we looked at pictures of her online and I emailed her and I said, ‘I think this is a great character for you’ and she immediately emailed me back and sent me all this fan art online that fans had done of her as Psylocke. So that’s how that one came to be.”
Another big character for Kinberg and Singer was Magneto, who traditionally had been the main villain of the whole series. And yet, with a character like Apocalypse, Magneto would of course become secondary. Kinberg told us the trick was to change the character’s whole circumstance, and that depended heavily on Michael Fassbender himself. “[Michael and I] started talking about what interested him in continuing the story and the evolution of Erik,” Kinberg said, “and we sort of came upon this story of a man trying to start a normal life and what that would look like for Erik and what it would feel like if he potentially lost that life.”
It does show a facet of Magneto we haven’t seen on film before, and it allowed the eighth film in the franchise to continue to shake things up. “From a thematic and emotional standpoint rather than, frankly, a comic book standpoint,” Kinberg continued, “we felt like it would be interesting if instead of a leader for once, he was actually somewhat of a follower, and how powerful and sort of jarring that could be for the audience, and how powerful that could be within the arc evolution of Michael Fassbender as Magneto; it’s one thing he hasn’t done yet.”
Kinberg was also very excited about getting Scott and Jean, two of the biggest characters in the X-Men universe, into the action again, and seeing their younger selves. They really take center stage in Apocalypse, the first time they’d been heavily featured since X-Men: The Last Stand. “They’re really protagonists in the movie; as much as Erik and Charles and Hank and Raven and Apocalypse, the final two are really Jean and Scott.” But they won’t be exactly who we saw initially in the original X trilogy. “Scott is not the squeaky clean leader,” Kinberg continued; “he’s actually kind of a messed up kid who’s really struggling to find his place in the world and not happy about being at the school. And Jean is someone who is also struggling with her power, sort of emotionally and physically.”
And then we entered into discussions about teasers for things to come. Kinberg is an expert at saying just a little bit to keep us intrigued. For instance, as we know, Jean Grey eventually becomes the Phoenix, and since the timeline of the movies has been tweaked, could this possibly mean we’ll see a different interpretation of the Dark Phoenix Saga? “I think everything that hasn’t been told in First Class or Days of Future Past is up for grabs going forward,” Kinberg said thoughtfully, “so it would absolutely be a story that we could tell in a different way.”
What about the characters we saw at the end of Days of Future Past? Does that mean all of them survive to the future? “All these movies now exist in the same timeline,” Kinberg told us after a grin, “and certainly the intention at the end of Days of Future Past was that final future we saw was the destination for the characters. So, barring another time travel [story] or something else that would upset the timeline, that would be the fate of those characters. And not everybody lives because you didn’t see everybody at the end of Days of Future Past.”
But who didn’t we see?!?!?!? Kinberg stayed mute on that one.
There are many things to explore and many relationships to see unfold in X-Men: Apocalypse and right now, the only consolation we have about waiting is that it’s only four months away at this point. May 27, hurry up!
Images: 20th Century Fox
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!