By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—James McAvoy reprises his role as young Professor Charles Xavier, headmaster of the exclusive Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” the latest installment of the popular Marvel fantasy franchise.
While 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” took place in 1963 and most of 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” was set in 1973, “X-Men: Apocalypse” jumps 10 years hence. CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), whose memories of a Castro-era encounter with X-Men Charles Xavier (McAvoy) were erased from her mind by him after that event, discovers that a megalomaniacal mutant with god-like powers has been resurrected in Egypt. Apocalypse (incoming villain to the franchise Oscar Isaac) is sufficiently disgusted with the state of the modern world that he enlists the equivalent of the biblical four horsemen to help him destroy it: the metal-feathered Angel (Ben Hardy), the energy-sword wielding Psylocke (Olivia Munn)he weather-controlling Storm (Alexandra Shipp)and former supervillain with a new grudge Magneto (Michael Fassbender).
Back in the U.S., teenager Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) accidentally destroys a high school bathroom with his blazing eye-beams before enrolling at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, where mutants learn to develop and control their superhuman skills as part of the curriculum. That’s where he meets the telepathic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner); the brainy but sometimes blue and brawny Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult); and another blue mutant Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who can vanish in a puff of smoke and reappear elsewhere.
This is the fourth “X-Men” movie directed by Bryan Singer. The screenplay is by Simon Kinberg, who wrote two of the previous “X-Men” movies and produced another.
McAvoy, who hails from Scotland, spoke about reprising the role (originated by “Star Trek: The New Generation’s” Patrick Stewart) in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” changing up his look in the film and what he loves about making “X-Men” movies.
Q: Why do you enjoy playing Charles so much?
McAvoy: The main reason I enjoy playing Charles is because he has empathy. He has this huge capacity for love and to care for others. And, what is fun is when you challenge that so by the end of this movie, that is definitely challenged.
Q: Hank McCoy a.k.a. Beast is running the school with Xavier in this installment. Do they just like doing that?
McAvoy: He and Hank run this school for gifted people, generally children. They are this odd couple that run this school in an amazing old building. I think if Eric (Magneto) didn’t come along, if Apocalypse didn’t come and Raven didn’t come sashaying into their lives, I think they’d be happy to live out the rest of their days being teachers and nurturing these young minds and souls. However, the real world doesn’t let them do that
Q: (SPOILER ALERT) Xavier goes bald in this one. Did that present a challenge for you?
McAvoy: We tried to shoot everything with hair before we shave it all off. He’s not a junkie anymore and he’s accepted his responsibility and his power again. I think the thing he couldn’t deal with in the last movie was the fact that the voices were overwhelming but their sadness reminded him of his own loss. He’s gotten beyond that now and is really optimistic.
Q: What do you like about X-Men movies and particularly this one?
McAvoy: A lot of times in X-Men movies, we’re fighting ourselves and we’re fighting politics and discrimination and oppression and misunderstanding of people from different backgrounds. That’s what I love about X-Men and we’ve got all that in this movie because we are still fighting ourselves, still fighting our natures and still fighting to accept ourselves, never mind how other humans feel about us.
Q: How does the villain Apocalypse get his powers?
McAvoy: He’s lived for a gazillion years and he has rejuvenated himself throughout that time by taking the bodies of others. He doesn’t live all that time but he puts his consciousness and abilities into the bodies of others, of mutants each time his old body is dying. Each time he does that he absorbs the power of that mutant so he’s got a billion different superpowers. The one power he’s never come across in mind control and for a megalomaniac who wants to dominate the entire world, it’s a pretty attractive prospect.
Q: Does Charles still have any relationship with the Moira character?
McAvoy: She can’t even remember me because at the end of “First Class,” I wiped her memory so she’s got no recollection of me whatsoever. She has, in the interim, found out about me and the school and she’s fascinated by it because she has this burning desire to find out about mutants. That’s because of who she is or I suspect it is because of some little gem of knowledge inside her that is bursting to grow and remind her of all the things I took from her. I have to go to her. She’s gotten onto something in downtown Cairo that isn’t going to lead to the emergence of Apocalypse. I find this out so I decide I need to go and see her.
Q: And his relationship with Mystique, who is once again played by Jennifer Lawrence?
McAvoy: After what happened in Washington in “Future Past,” she became the poster girl for a whole new species. She became the heroine for that moment and literally because the poster girl on poster all over the world saying she’s the one who saved the President. She’s the one who can do justice to this brave new world of people with powers. She lived that role for a couple of years but then saw through that façade and thought people are still being abused and hurt and torn away from their families simply because they’re mutants so she decided to throw out that cloak and reject that mantle and go back to traveling incognito and help where she could on a smaller scale and what brings her out of that is when she finds out what happened to Eric (Magneto).
Q: What is special about X-Men movies with all the other superhero films out there?
McAvoy: What I think is special about “X-Men” movies is the emotional drive and content that is found within the relationships in the movie. There are often quite adult, mature relationships even when it is the younger cast members playing those characters. It’s often quite mature and real world stuff they are dealing with. Hopefully fans will get some bang for their buck and good blockbuster action and fun, which I love too.