This article consists of nothing but major X-Men: Apocalypse spoilers. Don’t read it if you haven’t watched the movie yet!
You think Marvel Studios and DC Films have a lock on loading up their movies with comic book references? Think again! X-Men: Apocalypse has as many nods to classic X-Men comics, cartoons, and even the film franchise itself to satisfy even the most sharp-eyed fan. This is absolutely the most loaded X-Men movie yet.
So what have we done? Why, we’ve gone ahead and compiled everything we could spot in this one, that’s what! And we’re not done yet. We need your help!
Do you know a piece of X-Men history on display in the movie that we missed? Shout it out in the comments or right at me on Twitter and we’ll update this if it checks out.
So let’s get going…
Who is Apocalypse?
While Apocalypse became one of the X-Men’s greatest foes after his first appearance in X-Factor #5 in 1986, his early history was first detailed in the Rise of Apocalypse mini-series from 1996 by Terry Kavanagh and Adam Pollina. En Sabah Nur was one of the world’s first mutants, left out in the desert to die by his tribe because of his bizarre appearance. Soon, he was rescued by a tribe of warrior nomads who lived by a “survival of the fittest” creed that would factor heavily into his life before finding himself living under the thumb of obscure Fantastic Four villain Rama-Tut (before he became the somewhat less obscure Avengers villain Kang the Conqueror).
While Apocalypse’s basic mutant abilities are all in place, I don’t remember the whole “swapping bodies” thing ever coming into play in the comics. It did factor into an episode of the classic X-Men: The Animated Series (which this movie clearly loves) called “The Fifth Horseman” where Apocalypse tries to transfer his body first into Jubillee, but then settles for possessing Fabian Cortez.
Also, there are some similarities to the 1932 The Mummy starring Boris Karloff, and I don’t think that’s an accident, either.
Since they basically isolate him in ancient times before he awakens here, they left out one of the coolest things about his comic book counterpart: he spent a thousand years amassing and interfacing with all kinds of absurd alien technology, although there seems to be some of that there in Egypt with him at the opening.
– Apocalypse’s ancient horsemen don’t appear to have specific mutant counterparts, and are instead just representations of the traditional Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: famine, war, death, and pestilence.
Meet the New X-Men (Same as the Old X-Men…mostly)
Since Apocalypse was an X-Factor villain, and X-Factor was a new version of the original X-Men squad, 4 of the original 5 (all created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) are present and accounted for here: Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, and Angel. C’mon, bring Iceman back!
– The intro of Scott Summers losing control of his optic blasts for the first time in a bathroom stall reminds me of a deleted scene from the first X-Men movie, except that happened at prom, I believe.
We also get the first onscreen bits of sibling rivalry between the Summers brothers in this, which is long overdue. I have to assume the parents here are foster parents, because their real Dad had better be off in space with the Starjammers setting up future space-bound installments of this franchise or something because, c’mon.
Since we don’t see Havok’s body later on, I don’t think you need to put too much stock in his death, either. He’ll be back. X-Men are hard to kill.
– The first meeting of Scott and Jean played out very differently in the comic…
Although when Jean offers some sick burns to poor Scott here, it plays on the common (correct!) perception that Cyclops is boring as hell.
– From assorted bits of imagery when her powers manifest, not to mention the shape of her prophetic nightmares, it looks like they’re taking the approach that the Phoenix force is already within Jean Grey. That’s probably for the best, because good luck trying to build up to that craziness any other way.
It should also be noted that while it is never confirmed whether the technology Apocalypse uses to body swap is “Celestial” (alien) like in the comics–though it does resemble the illuminated pattern design–the villain definitely seems to recognize Jean Grey’s Phoenix power before it consumes him, saying, “All has been revealed.”
This very well could be a hint that they are taking the Phoenix in a more cosmic direction in the future movies. Whatever the case, when we get around to X-Men 7, you’d better believe that Jean’s full powers will be coming to the front.
– Jubilee first appeared in Uncanny X-Men #244 where she was created by Chris Claremont and Marc Silvestri. This was 1989, and possibly the height of “mall culture” in the U.S. Jubilee was a fan favorite, but really rose to prominence when she was a featured member of the fondly remembered X-Men animated series of the 1990s.
-Also a cool little nod to the ’80s period–depending on your stance of the coolness of “Don’t Stop Believing”–is the fact that Jubilee is wearing a Journey t-shirt from one of their tours. Again, what is cool is in the eye of the beholder. Don’t forget, that’s the song that ruined The Sopranos.
– We’re also re-introduced to Nightcrawler, and he’s cool, but nothing has ever quite topped his introduction in X2: X-Men United. And just to drive home the new timeline even further, he joins the School for Gifted Youngsters at the end here, which makes the idea of him showing up as a potential assassin in that movie all the more unlikely now. I enjoy these movies but the continuity is giving me a headache.
They do play up Kurt’s faith in God, though and later on he’s rocking a replica of Michael Jackson’s Thriller jacket, because those things were all the rage.
– Also, what feels like a small nod is that Mystique saves Nightcrawler from the German fight club. While it is not mentioned in the film, Mystique is actually Nightcrawler’s mother (it was established in First Class that she ages slower than humans, remember?). This was revealed in X-Men Unlimited #4 (1994), but considering how they never even fully resolved another secret parent subplot, it was probably wise not to make this one explicit.
Speaking of which…
– Quicksilver is just wonderful, isn’t he? He’s definitely well-versed in the music of the era. At one point, he’s rocking a Rush t-shirt, and there’s a poster for Pink Floyd‘s excellent 1977 album, Animals visible on his wall. You just know Pietro blazes up the good shit down there in the basement.
Also, note his cool Six Million Dollar Man t-shirt.
Also, also… Ms. Pac-Man was released in 1982. For him to have a standalone cabinet of his own in 1983 implies that either his mom is rich or he stole it. By the way, I will totally destroy all of you at Ms. Pac-Man any day, any time. You too, Pietro.
You can spot Knight Rider on his TV, which would have been in its first or second season here.
The costumes the team wears at the end of the film are by far the most colorful and intricate this franchise has ever attempted, drawing serious influence both from the Jim Lee designs of the ’90s and the animated series.
Who are Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen?
– Angel’s intro is reminiscent of something from the first X-Men movie, although in this case it’s Wolverine’s cage fighting sequence. This movie sure tries to put as much distance between their version of Warren Worthington III and that of X-Men: The Last Stand as mutantly possible though, doesn’t it? And that doesn’t even account for Jean’s “the third one is the worst” joke…supposedly about Return of the Jedi.
There’s something worth noting about this Wolverine parallel, though. When Angel became the significantly more badass Archangel in X-Factor #24 in 1987 (???), it was very much an attempt to get another badass Wolverine-type character into the X-books (this became a pattern of diminishing returns for the next decade or more). Since X-Factor was a comic focused on the original X-Men (Cyclops, Jean, Beast, Angel, and Iceman), none of whom were particularly “badass,” Angel got his wings clipped… and replaced.
So drawing that Wolverine connection here isn’t entirely unwarranted. Although, there’s little in this movie to make you think that this is a character with the kind of future that Hugh Jackman’s endlessly charismatic Logan has had.
Although, in one of the most fun moments in the film, when Apocalypse comes a-callin’ for Angel, Warren is getting hammered and listening to “The Four Horsemen” from Metallica’s debut album, Kill ’em All…which was a brand new release in 1983. Put on your denim jacket and turn this shit up…
I can’t tell you how perfect this is. Apocalypse always kinda looked (and talked) like someone you’d expect to show up on a Metallica or Megadeth album cover, right?
– Magneto has taken a number of aliases in his career, but I don’t believe “Henryk” has ever been one of them. Please feel free to correct me, and I’ll update this as needed! His wife, Magda, however is definitely from the comics, although traditionally she was the mother of Pietro and Wanda Maximoff.
But the whole narrative with an angry mob coming after Magneto and accidentally causing the death of his daughter (Anya, although it’s Nina in the film) when they learn of his powers all rings true for comics fans.
There are a couple of things to note about Storm here. Like many things in this movie (Jubilee, Archangel, Apocalypse), her mohawk hairstyle is intended to evoke a particular period in X-Men history. In this case, that little change in style happened in 1983, the same year X-Men: Apocalypse is set!
I also believe this is the first time in the franchise where we’ve gotten a look at Storm’s early history as a street urchin/thief. When Apocalypse makes her “a goddess” that’s a career path she later chose for herself, when she allowed an African tribe to worship her and her weather controlling abilities.
– Was that an Arabic version of A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran” playing during Storm’s intro?
Psylocke was around long before she was actually Psylocke. She’s actually Betsy Braddock, the sister of Captain Britain (Brian Braddock) and no, I don’t know anything about the studio rights to any of this stuff. Please don’t make me explain her backstory because it’s nutso bananas even by X-Men comics standards.
– The version of Caliban we see in the movie is a pretty cool realization of a fairly minor character from the X-Men comics of the era. The comic book Caliban also had a fondness for underground lairs (in this case the NYC sewers). He has a mutant tracking ability, and in the movie he has monetized that as a broker of information, which is a nice way to do this, and they keep his habit of referring to himself in the third person. He ended up spending some time as one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen at one point too.
MISCELLANEOUS COOL STUFF
– The Wolverine appearance (and Wolverine’s actual appearance) is more than a little bit of a nod to the Weapon X story that ran in Marvel Comics Presents. Weapon X was the first attempt to tell Wolverine’s origin (well, part of it at least) in any kind of detail at all. It was written and drawn by the brilliant Barry Windsor-Smith and it’s totally worth checking out.
Having Jean “heal” him of some of his mental problems is kinda dopey and unnecessary, but it’s meant to set-up why later on Logan is attracted to/protective of Jean. I’m not sure it really works in this context.
– That’s totally Blob that Angel is fighting in his intro, right? He even appears to be wearing a variation of Blob’s old black with yellow trim outfit. In one brief sequence, this movie just helped to further eliminate X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine from continuity. Ciao!
– The “fight announcer” during the mutant fight club scenes is credited as just that, but in my head I’d like to pretend he’s the Ringmaster from the Circus of Crime. That probably isn’t the case.
– When Apocalypse is learning about the modern world via TV, there’s an episode of classic Star Trek that pops up. The episode in question is “Who Mourns for Adonais” which was about the Enterprise crew encountering a godlike being who calls himself “Apollo.” He has similar delusions as our pal En Sabah Nur.
– Xavier is reading/quoting from TH White’s The Once and Future King to students, and that book was a recurring theme in X2: X-Men United, as well.
Later on, Xavier quotes himself from the first X-Men film, when he says, “I feel a great swell of pity for the poor soul who comes to my school looking for trouble” in response to Erik asking him, “Doesn’t it ever wake you in the middle of the night? The feeling that someday they’ll come for you and your children?” It’s a nice touch.
– Stan Lee brought his wife Joan along for the cameo in this one, by the way.
– We totally got robbed of a classic “teenage X-Men head into town and get hassled by bonehead racists because they’re mutants” scene when they went to the mall. I bet one was shot and it ends up on the deleted scenes on the Blu-ray.
X-Men: Apocalypse Post-Credits Scene
– The Essex Corporation in the post-credits scene is a reference to Nathaniel Essex… better known as Mr. Sinister. The fact that they’ve come specifically for Weapon X’s DNA kind of lends credence to the chatter that we’ll be meeting X-23 in the X-Force movie or a future X-Men installment.
The film also sets up another X-Men villain that you might have missed. When Charles Xavier goes to visit Moira McTaggert at the CIA, he sees a picture of her son that she now has. She also notes that she is divorced.
This isn’t just a small touch of character development for Moira. Nay, she is in fact the mother of another X-Men villain named Proteus. As a mutant child whose powers are too destructive for his own good, Proteus is a powerful being with daddy issues after his father worked out… and he has the ability to warp matter around him at a cellular level, which provided one of the few times where Wolverine was absolutely terrified to face a villain again after being turned into a literal puddle and reassembled back again no worse for wear, save for in the scarred mind.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments, or yell at Mike on Twitter!