It's hard to remember now, but there was actually a time when new superhero movies weren't released every week. The idea that films like Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War would even exist seemed laughable back in the '90s, and few could have predicted their current dominance at the box office.
The success of Blade in 1998 kickstarted a change, moving the mainstream perception of comic book movies away from the likes of Batman & Robin towards the more serious superhero films of today, but the man most instrumental in this shift was Bryan Singer, whose first X-Men movie redefined what a comic book film was capable of.
Since the success of X-Men in 2000, Marvel's merry band of mutants have starred in a total of six films to date (excluding spin-offs), four of which were directed by Singer himself. The release of X-Men: Apocalypse signals the end of the second trilogy, so it's fitting that Singer has included a number of subtle callbacks to each of the previous films, paying homage to the franchise's legacy while giving a sly nod and wink to loyal fans.
As always, we're here to help, breaking down each reference with all the insight of Jean Grey, minus the Beast's techno-babble. Join us as we count down 10 nostalgic callbacks hidden in Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse.
1. Finish Him!
The cage match that introduces Angel and Nightcrawler is reminiscent of the first time we met a certain clawed berserker in the original movie, fighting off truckers with gleeful abandon. Hugh Jackman's portrayal of Wolverine was pivotal to the success of X-Men, so it's understandable that Singer would want to pay homage to his iconic introduction with a fresh batch of mutants.
Unfortunately, Singer fails to top Nightcrawler's debut in X2: X-Men United, which still stands as the benchmark that all other comic book fight scenes should be compared to, but Kurt does retain his tattoo-like markings and religious faith.
2. Is Obesity A Superpower?
At the beginning of this same cage fight, Angel celebrates his victory over what appears to be a larger clone of Donald Trump being carted out of the arena. Despite never being referred to by name, comic book fans immediately knew this to be the Blob, a long-standing X-Men foe who previously appeared more prominently in X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
By moving the Blob away from his Weapon X days to this scene set in East Berlin, Singer proves exactly how determined he is to distance the new continuity from these two previous films, which are seen by many as the low points of the franchise.
3. Berserker Mode
Speaking of Weapon X, there was something hugely satisfying about finally seeing berserker Wolverine appear onscreen for the first time. Many of the previous films explored the effect that this program had on Wolverine, remaining a constant throughout the series and its shifting timelines, yet this was the most faithful adaptation of Weapon X arc to date.
Just before Wolverine somewhat comically runs off into the snow, Singer also uses the opportunity to call back to the original trilogy in an even more explicit way, mirroring the surprisingly tender relationship that Jean and Logan shared in X2: X-Men United.
4. The Third One's Always The Worst
Upon leaving a screening for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi at the mall, Jean, Scott, Kurt and Jubilee deride the film, declaring that;
“The third one’s always the worst.”
It's the film's most self-referential moment; Singer is clearly poking fun at the poor reception that X-Men: The Last Stand received after his temporary departure from the franchise, but the joke backfires now due to the mixed reaction for X-Men: Apocalypse itself. Nice try, Singer.
It's strange that we don't see more of Jubilee in X-Men: Apocalypse, as Lana Condor has previously described her character in explicit detail, discussing the use of her powers. Yet in the film's final cut, the mall rat is barely given a line and is never referred to by name.
Unfortunately, this carries on a tradition well established in the character's three previous appearances (X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand), where Jubilee is generally seen, but not heard.
Whether we see a "Jubilee" cut akin to the recent "Rogue" version of X-Men: Days of Future Past or not, check out some of the character's wasted potential in this promo that takes the '80s theme and runs with it faster than Quicksilver ever could.
Ever since the first X-Men movie, co-creator Stan Lee has regularly popped up in the franchise, usually in the form of an amusing cameo, but Singer took a different approach for X-Men: Apocalypse, showing the legend looking upwards at a nuclear arsenal as we see the missiles ascend from the reflection of his glasses.
It's a bold move, as fans are used to Lee's face appearing during more comical moments, but it ultimately pays off, setting this cameo apart as one of The Man's finest yet. Bonus points to those who realized that the woman Lee holds in this scene is actually his wife, Joan.
7. Rising From The Ashes
At the end of X-Men: Apocalypse, Jean Grey saves the day by unleashing the full extent of her power on En Sabah Nur, but amidst the pyrotechnics, the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted the shape of a certain fiery bird known to cause mischief in the X-Universe — and by mischief, we mean absolute carnage.
Yes, it appears that this new version of Jean Grey also holds access to the Phoenix powers, which were previously hinted at in X2: X-Men United before being unleashed in X-Men: The Last Stand.
The well-known saying "absolute power corrupts" applies here to both Jean's manifestation of the Phoenix and the way that Brett Ratner butchered this iconic storyline in the franchises third movie.
8. The Danger Room
X-Men: Apocalypse ends with the team assembled in brand spanking new outfits, ready to train in the Danger Room. So, of course, Singer took this opportunity to reference previous movies in the franchise, harking back to both our first glimpse of the Danger Room in X-Men: The Last Stand and the Sentinel design used in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
It's a shame that Singer didn't put his own spin on the Danger Room sequence of the third film, particularly as he has since come out and said that he regrets not sticking with the franchise after X2: X-Men: United.
9. The Once and Future King
Xavier seriously needs some new reading material; In X-Men: Apocalypse, the Professor reads from a book called "The Once and Future King that was also referenced twice in X2: X-Men: United, when Magneto was trapped in his cell and also at the end, when Charles speaks with his students.
Written by T. H. White, the novel is a powerful rumination on whether the strong and mighty should automatically rule, a theme that holds particular relevance to the philosophies of both Magneto and Apocalypse, respectively. The friendship between Arthur and Lancelot in the book also parallels that of Charles and Erik in the films, so it's no coincidence that Singer has referenced the novel once again in X-Men: Apocalypse.
10. Looking For Trouble?
If Singer decides to leave the franchise now, it could be a blow for fans, but at least the ending of X-Men: Apocalypse wraps up the themes of his work perfectly. The strained friendship between Xavier and Magneto encapsulates everything that the series is about, so it's fitting that Singer chose to recreate their exchange from the end of the first X-Men here once again.
Magneto: "Does it ever wake you in the middle of the night? The feeling that one day they will pass that foolish law or one just like it, and come for you? And your children?"
Prof. Charles Francis Xavier: "It does, indeed."
Magneto: "What do you do, when you wake up to that?"
Prof. Charles Francis Xavier: "I feel a great swell of pity for the poor soul who comes to that school...looking for trouble."
Gives us chills.
There are a few more callbacks to other X-Men movies that we haven't mentioned in detail, such as the Blackbird and Magneto's visit to the concentration camp, but what we want to know is;