‘X-Men’: Everything You Need to Know Before Seeing ‘Apocalypse’

by Rande Iaboni 7:01 AM PDT, May 26, 2016
Photo: 20th Century Fox

2016 is quickly shaping up to be the year of epic superhero battles. Following Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War, comic book fans everywhere can rejoice at the impending release of X-Men: Apocalypse, which X-plodes into theaters on May 27.

“Only the strong will survive,” the film’s tagline reads concerning the fate of our favorite X-Men, and the same could be said about audiences looking to check the film out for themselves. Here are the seven most crucial facts every moviegoer needs to know in order to successfully survive this apocalyptic ride.

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1. The Timeline of the X-Men Cinematic History

The franchise first began back in 2000 with Bryan Singer’s aptly titled, X-Men, boasting an all-star cast that included Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romijn and the relatively unknown at the time Hugh Jackman in the iconic role of Wolverine. It spawned two sequels, 2002’s highly-praised X2: X-Men United, and 2006’s widely-disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand.

Jackman became a bona fide action-star and reprised his role in two spinoff films, 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, often cited as the worst film in the whole franchise (it has a staggeringly low 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), and the 2013 sequel, The Wolverine, considered a vast improvement over its predecessor.

Which brings us to the prequel trilogy beginning with 2011’s X-Men: First Class, remaining in the same timeline as the originals, but essentially a reboot with a brand new cast of Hollywood A-listers including Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. It was followed by 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, viewed by many as the best in the series with an astounding 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. With the inclusion of time travel, it also featured the cast of the original trilogy, acting as a bridge between all of the films. Another advantage of time travel? Director Singer was able to alter the series’ timeline and completely erase all the events of the original trilogy.

Photo: 20th Century Fox

2. Which of These Do You Actually Need to See?

With so many entries in the X-Men universe, (nine films in total including spinoffs), it would be hard for anyone to go back and watch all of them. Of course, true devoted fans should see them all, but just in case you don’t have time to sit in front of a screen for close to 24 hours straight, let’s break down which are required viewing for the latest entry.  

With the exception of a small but memorable cameo from Jackman in this year’s Apocalypse, neither of Wolverine’s standalone films have a solid connection to the latest X-film, so you can easily avoid them both.

Similarly, while the R-rated smash hit Deadpool starring Ryan Reynolds is a must-watch for any superhero fan, besides taking place in the same cinematic universe as the other films, it can also be skipped as the plot has no relation to Apocalypse.

What about the original trilogy that started it all? Nope, you can skip all of those as well thanks to the time-traveling plot of Days of Future Past, the first three X-Men films are no longer relevant.

So, luckily for anyone under time constraints before the release of Apocalypse, out of all nine movies, viewers only need to watch First Class and Days of Future Past to fully understand the characters and plot.

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3. Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique Is One of the Good Guys Now

Fans were first introduced to shape-shifting Mystique in the original X-Men trilogy when she was portrayed by Romijn. Most memorable for her physical appearance, Romijn sported bright red hair, yellow eyes, blue skin and, lest we forget, she was completely naked. She was also one of the X-Men’s deadliest adversaries. The ultimate femme fatale, Mystique was undoubtedly evil.

But that all changed in X-Men: First Class with the introduction of Lawrence in the role. Physically, she looked very much the same, but internally, the character was vastly different. Instead of working against the X-Men, she was one of them. She was even the surrogate sister of X-Men leader Professor X. However, by the end of the film, her alliances shifted towards the much darker Magneto, and by X-Men: Days of Future Past, she returned as the villainous assassin that fans were familiar with. Once again though, by end of that movie, she found her way back to the side of good.

So, which side does the ravenous blue beauty find herself this go-around? Mystique is very much a hero in this film, even spending much of her time rescuing other mutants around the world. It's definitely a refreshing take on the dangerous and complex character we have known for over 15 years on screen (and much longer in the comics, of course). Whether she remains on the good side by the end of the film? You’ll have to wait and see for yourself.

Photo: 20th Century Fox

4. There Are Dozens of Characters in Apocalypse -- Here's Who You Need to Remember

In the X-Men franchise, there is no shortage of fan-favorite characters. Whether it is Wolverine (Jackman) or Magneto (McKellen), everyone has a preference. Despite all of this, the series has always been first and foremost an ensemble. And in X-Men: Apocalypse, each individual character gets their own moment to shine.

But it’s important that even with all the new and flashy characters like Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) or Psylocke (Olivia Munn) joining the series, viewers should not forget about the important emotional history our returning characters have with each other.

The complex relationship between Mystique (Lawrence), Magneto (Fassbender) and Xavier (McAvoy) is once again the main focal point of the film. In First Class, we got to see these characters meet for the first time and form immensely powerful bonds, only to have them broken by the film’s finale when Mystique and Magneto abandoned a handicapped Xavier. In Days of Future Past, both Xavier and Magneto joined forces to stop Mystique from making a terrible mistake that would change the rest of their lives. They both had different methods in reaching Mystique, Xavier attempting to get inside her head and control her while Magneto tried to get her to embrace her dark side and cause havoc on the rest of the world. In the end, Mystique shocked everyone when she turned on Magneto and thwarted his assassination attempt on the President of the United States.

X-Men: Apocalypse is set 10 years after these events, which were crucial in shaping who these characters have come to be when we catch up with them.

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5. Rose Byrne's Moira MacTaggert Returns in This One, but Her Memory Still Hasn't

Another returning character is Rose Byrne’s CIA agent, Moira MacTaggert. However, one thing missing is her memory. She was critical in First Class as the sole human supporter of the mutant movement, and also served as a love interest for McAvoy’s Xavier. But after the catastrophic events she witnessed, Xavier used his telepathy to wipe away her memories of everyone and everything she saw.

After being completely absent and not even mentioned in Days of Future Past, she makes a welcome return in Apocalypse and quickly finds herself right back in the mix of the mutant world, but with no prior knowledge of any of these characters she has spent so much time with in the past. She is the same person, but also different in many ways. A true testament to Byrne as an actress.

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6. Magneto Is Quicksilver's Father

Remember when we said the X-Men series is an ensemble despite fan-favorite characters? That all goes out the window when Evan Peters’ Quicksilver graces the screen. He stole the show in Days of Future Past with the one major sequence he had, and this time around, he is given much more to do and once again steals the spotlight.

His character also has a lot more emotional punch than before due to a subplot involving our anti-hero, Magneto. While fans of the comics know that Magneto is Quicksilver’s father, it was only subtly referenced in Days of Future Past, almost as a passing joke. But now, it is fully addressed and adds a thick layer of context to a character that was previously only used for comic relief. But fear not – he’s still incredibly entertaining in Apocalypse.

Photo: 20th Century Fox

7. Cyclops and Jean Grey Are the Ultimate Relationship Goals

Yes, this is a superhero film. Yes, there is tons of action. But there’s also a lot of heart in this -- particularly when it comes to X-Men’s #OTP (One True Pairing) -- Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner).

We met them in the original trilogy as adults (portrayed by James Marsden and Famke Janssen, respectively), and while they were very much a couple, the majority of the films were spent focusing on their love triangle with Jackman’s Wolverine.

But in Apocalypse, we finally get to see these young and powerful mutants meet and we get a front-row seat to the beginning sparks of what will eventually become X-Men’s super-couple. Watching these two learn and harness their powers together will give you serious #RelationshipGoals.