As the marketing rollout for Apocalypse has gotten underway, the scale of the threat has been a major talking point. But as unforgettable as the blue-skinned, armored Apocalypse known as En Sabah Nur – or ‘The First Mutant’ – may be, his origin story and mission don’t just threaten the mutants or humans of the X-Men universe, but the themes and narratives of the entire movie series.
We had an opportunity to speak with director Bryan Singer on the set of Apocalypse in July, getting some hints about the villain’s possible alien connection, what made Oscar Isaac the perfect actor for the role, and the indiscriminate order that he’s seeking to bring to mankind and mutants everywhere.
Until now, the X-Men series has been based (more or less) on a single conflict: mankind’s fear, paranoia, and eventual dominance of mutants. It was a fairly universal allegory for stories of outsiders, segregation and hate the world over – but a nuanced, unpredictable narrative it wasn’t. With Apocalypse, Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg are throwing that idea out the window.
Where X-Men: Days of Future Past saw mutants exposed to the world, threatening and saving President Nixon, it seemed that the ten year jump to Apocalypse would result in more of the same. But that all changes when Apocalypse arrives on the scene, with little interest in the difference between mutant and human – only the strong over the weak, and order over chaos. Singer explains:
“He believes with his heart that order is the only thing that’s going to save humanity, and he will provide that order at any cost… and for a person who begins as a unifier and then grows in power – What’s the old expression about power? Power does what? And what does absolute power do? Things just never go right, so that civilization goes down and he starts a fresh one.
“In this movie, something happens, he thinks he’s figured it out finally. ‘Oops,’ didnt really go well, he gets kind of buried and then wakes up, now he’s in a different situation than he’s ever been before… The Babylonians, the Sumerians, the ancient civilizations, and suddenly he wakes up in 1983. Now the world’s connected with television and radio. We see it as different civilizations, we see it as “super powers” as he says it, then the non-superpowers, the first world, second world, third, whatever. But to him it’s all just one giant interconnected, overly militarized, screwed up civilization that worships false idols and is self destructive, and needs to be refined and saved from itself.”
Hearing Apocalypse described by the director, it’s clear that he’s as complicated or conflicted a character as any of the mutants. He’s resolved in his beliefs, sure: as an ancient immortal being, he has seen enough to completely justify his desire for order above all else (to himself, at least). And for powerful beings seeking to rule a civilization through order, there’s no nightmare like the 1980s.
It will have to be left up to individual fans to decide how ‘fair’ the survival of the strongest really is, since it could also be said that Apocalypse doesn’t really play favorites. It’s the strong he seeks, as it was in the comics, recruiting his Horsemen to descend the world into war. Those who survive are the ones who deserved to, becoming the building blocks of an even resolved society.
Where he crosses from an aggressive, ruthless tyrant to a figure of religious worship will hopefully be explored in the movie, but if we had to guess, it’s his ability to reshape the world that wins followers to his cause. And even if we don’t know just how much of a role he played in ancient history, Singer promises that his return will be, in a word: Biblical:
“The way I describe him the best is he, to me, is the God of the Old Testament and all that comes with that. If there isn’t the order and the worship then I’ll open up the Earth and swallow you whole, and that was the God of the Old Testament. I started from there and when Oscar and I met we began discussing, since he isn’t really God, he’s the first mutant perhaps, but he’s not God necessarily. He’s imbued with certain unique powers. Some of them may or may not be from this Earth, we don’t know.”