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‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ ruled by women despite masculine franchise title

Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Professor X (James McAvoy) lead a team of young X-Men to stop Apocalypse -- the Marvel X-Men universe's most powerful mutant -- from attempting to destroy the world as they know it. In theaters May 27. (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Pardon our political correctness, but shouldn’t “X-Men: Apocalypse” really be “X-Persons: Apocalypse”?

“X-People,” corrected Alexandra Shipp (“Straight Outta Compton”), who plays Ororo Munroe/Storm, the younger version of the character previously played by Halle Berry. “I love it.”

After 16 years of a hugely successful, surprisingly intelligent, action-packed mutant franchise — one that has featured among its cast members, besides Berry, Anna Paquin, Rebecca Romjin, Famke Janssen, Olivia Williams, Ellen Page, Rose Byrne and, of course, Jennifer Lawrence — couldn’t there be a little accommodation in the title?

Ah, well, branding is branding, and you can’t mess with Google searches. So “X-Men” it is. And it is the boys, after all, who are causing the trouble — again. Awakened after several dormant millennia, a self-proclaimed god/mutant named Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) decides that mankind, circa 1983, deserves to be destroyed. Magneto (Michael Fassbender), always looking for a problem, allies himself with Apocalypse. Professor Xavier (James McAvoy), namesake of the X-Men, is engaged in a fight for the future of the planet. The game, as they say, is afoot.

Yet despite all the super mutant testosterone at work, it’s the women X-ers who seem key to this film. “Apocalypse” marks director Bryan Singer’s fourth trip to X-Ville and the third in which the storyline has flashed back, as it first did in “X-Men: First Class,” thus enabling younger actors — Lawrence, for instance, who stepped into the Raven/Mystique role originated by Romjin — to join the X-party.

Alongside Lawrence are Olivia Munn, who has taken over the Betsy Braddock/Psylocke role (Meiling Melancon played her, once, in “Last Stand”); Sophie Turner, who inhabits the Jean Grey/Phoenix character once played by Janssen; and Shipp as Storm, the role that once turned Berry moody and blue.

“It was hugely scary,” said Shipp, 24, about stepping into a role so identified with another actress. “The way Halle played Storm, she was always so controlled and poised and knew exactly what she was doing. I wanted to find out where that came from. I know what I was like when I was 16, I was a know-it-all and so sure of myself and I bring some of that to Storm.”

She compared “X-Men: Apocalypse,” in some ways to “Survivor,” in that everyone has an important role in the plot twists and the outcomes. “It’s really that everyone is essential,” she said, while agreeing that there is a surfeit of strong women in the kind of a movie — a Marvel movie — where you don’t always find them.

Shipp, who has been romantically linked to co-star McAvoy, is a singer-songwriter and actress with a variety of credits and as such is just one of the multi-talents emerging on the X train. Turner, an English actress and veteran of “Game of Thrones” will be playing novelist Mary Shelley in the upcoming biopic “Mary Shelley’s Monster.” Lawrence, of course, seems to blithely hop back and forth between devoting her Oscar-winning gifts to art-indie fare like “Joy” and mega-billion franchises like “The Hunger Games.” Munn, a correspondent on “The Daily Show” from 2010-11, seems to be the real fan among the “X-Men” cast, and a defender of her character’s place in the pantheon.

“Have you read the comic books?” she asked. “The films are the choices of people in Hollywood and the studios and what stories they’ll do, and what they’ll pull out. But the comic book Psylocke has always been my favorite. She’s a really strong character. For fans who love the comic books, she’s always been important.”

Psylocke, who becomes one of the mutant “four horsemen” who align themselves with Apocalypse, required a lot of physical investment on Munn’s part. “It was definitely very exciting to see how far I could push myself,’ she said. “I always thought I was in good shape and then I started training for this movie and realized how out of shape I was.”

It was good, Munn said, not having had “a big movie star who played my character before, like Famke Janssen, or Halle Berry, or James Marsden — there’s a lot of big stars who’ve put their imprint on the characters. So that was one advantage I had. But I’ve been a fan since I was a little kid, so in bringing Psylocke to the screen there were other pressures — knowing how unusual . . . she is, and wanting to do her justice, and being a fan. How do I see her? How do other fans see her? I had to work through that.”

And the importance of the women to “X-Men: Apocalypse,” she said, should not be underestimated. “It’s important to realize the power that the women hold in this movie, and how great it is,” she said. “And how much damage it can cause.”

‘X-MEN’ SEQUELS KEEP MUTATING

Like a lot of series, “X-Men” likes to tease us with titles — “X-Men: The Last Stand,” released in the ancient year of 2006, sounded like a summing-up, and yet was followed by four more installments, with a sequel to come. “X-Men: Apocalypse,” too, hints at some kind of finale. But as long as the franchise’s tales of superpowered mutants continue to do the kind of business that 2014’s “Days of Future Past” did ($748 million worldwide, according to boxofficemojo.com), it will keep going, and going, and going. The following (not counting “Wolverine” and “Dead Pool”) is where it’s been:

X-MEN (2000) We forget, but director Bryan Singer won the Sundance festival in 1993 (with the defiantly unconventional “Public Access”), following up with the cult fave “The Usual Suspects” (1995) and then “Apt Pupil” (1998) before joining the world of superheroes. Singer’s initial “X-Men” effort features Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin) joining Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his academy against Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants.

X-MEN 2 (2003) Formerly “X2,” this one is by Singer again, with Col. William Stryker (Bryan Cox) brainwashing Xavier into revealing the whereabouts of all mutants so they can be killed. The script reportedly required hundreds of drafts, though it’s hard to see why.

X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006) Hardly. With Singer off to do “Superman Returns,” Brett Ratner was hired to make this one, about a cure for mutants and outrage among some, including the ever-dyspeptic Magneto, who teams up with Phoenix, the returning X-Woman Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, who seems to have dropped out of the series).

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) Flashback: It’s 1962, Xavier is played by James McAvoy and the mutants are recruited to help the U.S. government defeat a crazed dictator intent on starting World War III. Director Matthew Vaughn’s film marks the entry of Jennifer Lawrence into the crew, as Raven/Mystique, and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr, aka Magneto.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) Dare we say the best of the bunch? Featuring the entirety of extant X-Men cast members plus the Nixon administration, this story involves Wolverine going back in time to thwart an assassination and save mankind. And Singer is back in the saddle.

— JOHN ANDERSON

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