Perhaps the most exciting moment in the final trailer for Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse has nothing to do with Oscar Isaac’s immortal mutant threatening the future of humanity, nor seeing the heroes swoop in to save the day. Instead, it’s the suggestion that, after more than a decade and five movies, the movie franchise might follow its comic book source material and move past the influence of Charles Xavier.
A brief exchange in the final trailer reveals that Apocalypse (Isaac) has kidnapped Xavier, leaving Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) to gather a new team of X-Men without him. In terms of the movie series that started with 2000’s X-Men, this is undoubtedly a big deal — Xavier has been front-and-center of the franchise, whether as Patrick Stewart’s aged mentor of the original trilogy or James McAvoy’s younger, more impetuous incarnation in the prequel trilogy launched with 2011’s X-Men: First Class.
In terms of movies, where the X-Men go, Xavier will be present, frowning and telling Magneto that there’s another way each and every time; to those who only know the franchise through its big-screen incarnation, that’s what X-Men is — a story about Xavier and Magneto, no matter the time period or external threat du jour. Sidelining Xavier when it comes to the team, in that light, seems almost transgressive: Who are the X-Men without Xavier to lead them? But for comic book fans, that question seems ridiculous.
In comic book lore, Xavier’s relationship with the X-Men is far more complicated than in the movies. It’s not just that he doesn’t hold the same premiere position within the comic book franchise (although that’s certainly true); it’s that the comic book X-Men franchise has a history of actively rejecting Xavier as a character and writing him out for long periods of time, allowing the property to explore different directions and story possibilities beyond the Xavier/Magneto relationship that dominates the movie storylines.
Since his 1963 debut, Xavier’s comic book incarnation has been killed off twice, sent into space to recover from a near-death experience and depowered on at least one occasion, with each of these events used to sever his relationship to the X-Men for a period of time.
Even when Xavier is present in the comic books — something that’s not been the case since he was killed for a second time in Marvel’s Avengers vs. X-Men, outside of rare flashbacks — he is rarely a dominant force on the narrative; traditionally, he serves as a mentor for the team proper, as opposed to a full member, relatively removed from the spotlight except for occasional storylines which break from the status quo. The comic book X-Men, as the name suggests, is a team and a franchise with a more democratic focus. (Well, as long as you’re one of the fan-favorite characters like Cyclops, Storm or Wolverine, at least.)
While it’s unlikely that X-Men: Apocalypse is going to keep Xavier and the X-Men separated for too long — the two will presumably be reunited in time for an exciting third act filled with action, spectacle and Xavier pleading with Magneto — it will, hopefully, set the stage for future X-Men releases that allow Xavier to step onto the sidelines however temporarily and let other characters shine.
After six movies, the franchise should be strong enough to handle it, and shifting the focus would not only set the stage for X-Men features that go places that the movie franchise hasn’t visited yet, but leaves Xavier free to spend some time with the mooted New Mutants feature to serve as a familiar face to mentor another group of mutants stuck in a world that hates and fears them.
That said, this is a franchise that’s proven itself curiously unwilling to feature an installment that doesn’t include Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine (also teased in the latest trailer). Perhaps awaiting even an X-Men movie mutation as positive as this one may require even more patience than it seems.