Obviously the answer is, I don’t know. Yet. But with the latest information coming out about the prequel sequel, my concerns are heightening. After the success of X-Men: First Class, a sequel was inevitable. And thankfully, since it was one of the better comic book movies to ever hit the big screen. Unfortunately, the movie hit a snag when it was announced that the first one’s director, Matthew Vaughn, left the project. Director Bryan Singer of the first two X-Men movies (and Superman Returns) regained the helm. Then, the filmmakers revealed it was based on the legendary X-Men storyline, Days of Future Past. Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Ian McKellan (Magneto), and Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier) were rumored to have joined the cast. And this week, Singer tweeted that Anna Paquin (Rogue), Shawn Ashmore (Iceman), and Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde) have definitely signed on.
For those unaware, Days of Future Past ranks as one of X-Men’s greatest story lines. Taking place over The Uncanny X-Men #141 and #142, the arc jumps from 1980 (the year of the comic’s printing) to a dystopian 2013 and back again. In the story’s 2013, the assassination of Presidential candidate Robert Kelly (who was played by Bruce Davidson and turned into that water blob thing in the original X-Men) leads to a quarter century of terror for super-individuals. The creation of the Sentinels (giant purple robots that have been the scourge of videogame X-Men for decades) led to the deaths of essentially all superheroes and villains except for a select few, including Kitty Pryde and Wolverine. With the help of Rachel Summers (the daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey), an adult ‘Kate’ Pryde is transported into the mind of her 13-year-old self who had just joined the X-Men in an attempt to prevent the murder.
With that background out of the way, I have to admit that I’ve grown less enthusiastic about the project over the past couple of weeks- even with the reveal that Singer talked to James Cameron (hopefully in his ocean fortress) about how time travel can work in film. (Though for “accuracy’s” sake, he would have been better off conversing with Primer‘s Shane Carruth.) And my concern comes back to The Avengers.
The success of The Avengers has influenced the production of several franchises. We’ve heard rumors that the upcoming Star Wars Trilogy will have tie-in films. (Though at this point I immediately discount anything I hear about the new Star Wars films. I’m still doubting the JJ Abrams hire.) We have also heard that Justice League will be used to spin off future DC movies, in a reverse Avengers gambit that seems horrible. So it’s not unbelievable that the makers of X-Men would also take a nod from the third highest grossing movie of all time.
More than that, The Avengers showed that a superhero team-up movie can do ridiculously well. Why, FOX / Bryan Singer already have a pre-established superhero team, so why not a superhero team-up movie of superhero teams teaming up? It’s exactly the type of shortsighted thinking we make fun of Hollywood for in the first place.
The X-Franchise is a bit of a sticky wicket, a term I hope that I’m using correctly. Yes, it started the superhero boom. Yes, X2 is well done. However, much like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy, the franchise brings with it a lot of unnecessary baggage. X2 is a decade old and much of its strength was undermined by X-Men: The Last Stand– the generally despised third film in the original trilogy. And it’s hated for good reason- making 3/5 of the last stand comprised of tertiary characters from the film series, killing the most classic characters, ruining the Dark Phoenix storyline, having Rogue sacrifice what makes her unique for a boyfriend and not becoming Ms. Marvel-juiced up Rogue, etc. It might have made the most money out of the three films, but if its legacy was that impressive, they wouldn’t have had to reboot the entire franchise with X-Men: First Class. And yes, I consider X-Men: First Class a reboot. The movie itself toed the line between reboot and prequel, but I thought it proved itself well enough that it no longer needed to rely on its predecessors. I personally consider it the best of the original five films, including X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Moreover, if the filmmakers believe that The Avengers worked because it united pre-established characters, they’re missing the point. The Avengers might have been comprised primarily of characters that were in earlier films, but the main characters starred in their own film. Not all X-Men are created equal- a phrase I hated typing as much as you hated reading. In the movies, there was an obvious though understandable bias towards Wolverine. Professor X and Magneto could stand on their own…well, you know what I mean. But Rogue, Iceman, and Kitty Pride? I’d hesitate to call them fan favorites in the slightest. Rogue lacked the spunk that made the character so memorable in the comics, Iceman served as a bland love interest until they decided to propel him into hero mode in the third one, and Ellen Page’s Kitty Pryde didn’t come around until the third movie. Thor they are not. Hell, Agent Coulson they are not.
The Avengers virus has also infected the upcoming The Wolverine directed by James Mangold and starring Hugh Jackman as Logan/Weapon X/Wolverine. What was initially rumored to be a stand-alone movie that had no connection to any of the X-films, now apparently has the return of Jean Grey (probably in a guilt-ridden dream sequence) and is set as a sequel to X-Men: The Last Stand.
While I can’t blame the producers for trying to join all these divergent elements together, it risks being overwhelming in a way The Avengers wasn’t. Operating with most of the best line-up gone; relying on good will towards a franchise whose best years were a decade ago (literally, as X2 came out in 2003); and joining teams rather than characters make me head towards X-Men: Days of Future Past with a bit of hesitancy.
This isn’t to say that I’m immediately discounting the movie. X-Men: First Class greatly impressed me, and I was disappointed that Matthew Vaughn left the sequel- and now I’m wondering if Avengers-fevered studio dreams played a role in that. While Singer is a better choice as director than someone like Brett Ratner, I still consider it a step back after seeing what Vaughn accomplished. However, Singer has shown a definite appreciation towards the source material so I tentatively trust him to do right by this iconic tale. Though I am curious how they’re going to play around with a future that already exists … unless something that happens in the 1960s that creates a timeline different from the one established in 1999 X-Men, in which case why can’t they just ignore the original trilogy and let X-Men: First Class alone?
Regardless, it’s impossible to judge a movie until you’re actually watching it in theaters and futile to complain about the plot until you actually learn its details. If they’re doing Days of Future Past and have to go into the “future,” it makes sense to utilize the talent and universe that’s already in place. But I can’t shake the sense that the success of The Avengers affected this direction. When a movie comes about because of a studio hoping that lightning strikes twice, it rarely turns out well, and I didn’t want to see the X-Men: First Class franchise implode this soon.
Our next stop on the X-Men Phase II train will be on July 26, 2013, as The Wolverine takes to the screen. That’ll either ease or heighten concerns before we head towards the past and the future on July 18, 2014 with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Which is also the opening day of The Hobbit: There and Back Again, the conclusion to the Tolkien prequel saga. One of them is totally going to have to move.
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