X-Men: Apocalypse marks the end of the second X-Men trilogy. But, where X-Men: The Last Stand tried to tie everything into a nice, neat little bow (largely by killing everybody), X-Men: Apocalypse is all about setup. Fox's long-term goal is to turn the X-Men franchise into a cinematic universe, and we already know about spin-offs — Wolverine 3, for example, which will be based on the popular "Old Man Logan" arc; or New Mutants, an exciting new film featuring younger mutants.
X-Men: Apocalypse isn't about the spin-offs. Instead, it's about setting up the next trilogy: The X-Men films that will remain at the center of the franchise. It does a superb job of setting up a number of plots — some familiar, some unexpected, and all with real potential to add to the X-Men universe.
1. Proteus - A Threat Almost Beyond The X-Men!
Proteus is perhaps one of the most dangerous mutants in Marvel Comics. A powerful, dangerous mutant who was held prisoner in Moira MacTaggert's mutant research facility on Muir Isle, Proteus is a reality-manipulator. He hops from body to body (in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Apocalypse in X-Men: Apocalypse), and twists reality with such ease that a battle with Proteus left Wolverine terrified. How do you fight a force of nature who can twist and warp reality around you?
We already knew that Bryan Singer liked the idea of using Proteus. What we didn't expect was a very visible nod to the character. You see, in Uncanny X-Men #126 we learned that Proteus is actually Kevin MacTaggert — Moira's son. And in X-Men: Apocalypse, Xavier discovers that Moira has a son; she's divorced, much to Xavier's relief, but obviously cares a great deal for her unnamed son. All this is exactly parallel to Moira's story in the comics, where she married, divorced, and had a mutant son. It's a subtle piece of setup, the kind of detail that can just be seen as fan-service if nothing comes of Singer's idea. But it's nice to see that nods like this are now being made consciously, with the hope that a future story could come out of them.
2. X-23 - Wolverine's Female Clone!
X-23 is a fan-favorite character, a female clone of Wolverine who originated in the X-Men: Evolution animated series. The character swiftly made the transition over to the comics, and has been a mainstay in X-Men and Avengers books ever since. Most recently, X-23's story has taken an appropriate twist; with Wolverine dead in the comics, she's taken on the role in honor of the man she considers her father. Bryan Singer's openly admitted that he's made a similar pitch to Fox.
Crucially, the end-credits scene in X-Men: Apocalypse reveals that the Weapon X project kept some of Wolverine's DNA — and it's in the hands of someone traditionally associated with cloning.
3. Sinister - A Twisted Geneticist!
One of the most deadly X-Men villains, Sinister is a geneticist with a belief in social darwinism. Dating from the time of Charles Darwin, this ageless mutant has cultivated a tremendous degree of scientific knowledge and is traditionally linked to Apocalypse. Perhaps his most terrible act was the gathering of the Marauders, a brutal group who he used to slaughter an entire subterranean mutant community.
Sinister is typically obsessed with Cyclops and Jean Grey, and particularly loves to dabble with cloning. His real name is Nathaniel Essex and, in a clever nod, the end-credits scene of X-Men: Apocalypse showed representatives of "Essex Corp" taking Wolverine's DNA from the Weapon X project.
4. The Dark Phoenix Saga - Perhaps The Greatest X-Men Story Of All Time!
Over in the comics, Jean Grey became tied to the cosmic Phoenix Force, manifesting power on a scale the X-Men had never seen before. Ultimately, she was corrupted by this power, becoming the monstrous Dark Phoenix and consuming an entire star system before she committed suicide rather than risk falling into her inner darkness once again. It's generally viewed as the most powerful X-Men story of all time, and Fox made a stab at it in X-Men: The Last Stand. Now, they're clearly setting things up to try again.
We'd already had hints, such as Singer's comment about intending to take the X-Men into space. But X-Men: Apocalypse did more than hint; Apocalypse's last words turned the plot of the film on its head, suggesting that the world-consuming fire glimpsed in Jean's vision was actually the Dark Phoenix. We're definitely walking this path. I confess that I originally thought it was a mistake, but — having seen the quality of Sophie Turner's Jean Grey, and the superb effects behind the Phoenix fire in X-Men: Apocalypse — I'm left far more optimistic.
What's most interesting is how some of these concepts tie together. With the future of the X-Men franchise resting so heavily on Jean Grey, setting up Sinister as a villain is entirely appropriate. He's always been obsessed with Scott Summers and Jean Grey, even cloning Jean in the comics. Meanwhile, Proteus was an enemy so powerful that he actually came close to killing Jean, even though at the time she possessed the full power of the Phoenix Force. All these teasers, some subtle and some obvious, suggest that Fox is putting a lot of thought into the future of the X-Men franchise.
Personally, I couldn't be more X-cited.