Soapbox


NOTE: This entire commentary is based on early footage, trailers and casting information for “X-Men: First Class” which is set to be released on June 3rd, 2011. I have not seen the finished product yet but a full review will appear once the film has been released.

Okay, this has been brewing for some time so I apologize if it seems like I’m going overboard. Ever since it was announced that the X-Men franchise was essentially being rebooted via “X-Men: First Class”, I held out some small hope in my heart that scrapping the earlier trilogy and starting anew meant someone could do it right. (They say it’s a prequel but any idiot knows it’s because there’s way more headaches involved in affording or scheduling the A-list cast for another group project.)

Director Matthew Vaughn was tapped to bring this vision to screen and I thought that maybe, just maybe, he would bring the same integrity shown in “Kick-Ass” to the X-franchise.

Alas, all early indicators are that this too will be a slap in the face to old school X-Men fans. Going by the comics (you know, X-Men #1), the “first class” of the team are Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman, and Angel. In this film, the only original member we get is Beast. 1 out of 5? 20%? That’s the best you can do?! At least pretend you’re trying.

This is just plain revisionist history and makes no goddamn sense. Hell, I’d begrudgingly give them some credit if they used Giant Sized X-Men #1 as their basic template – which saw Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Thunderbird, and Colossus helping Cyclops rescue the other original four from a sentient island named Krakoa.

I’d even forgive them for changing out the rather lame villainous island for the Hellfire Club, as they’re doing in the film. The Hellfire Club played a key role in some important changes to the X-roster (they were early players in the resolution of the Dark Phoenix saga … don’t get me started on how they dealt with this in “X-Men: The Last Stand“).

Sadly, it appears the screenwriters decided to mix and match elements of the comics from across the almost 50 year history of the X-Men (first issue published in 1963), as well as keep in some congruence with the terrible changes they made in the previous three films. In the trailers, we see secondary mutations for both Emma Frost and Beast. Frost’s diamond-hard skin was a lame addition made in the last 10 years and while I’ve seen that the blue fur is a development made within the film, I’m sure they won’t use the actual reason he becomes that way and screw that up too.

Then there’s setting the film in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This actually makes some sense; and having Magneto potentially destroy a submarine carrying nuclear weapons might be an homage to a story line wherein he crushed a Russian sub and causes an international incident (I’ll give the screenwriters the benefit of the doubt here).

However, just like with Rogue in the first “X-Men” film, they’re messing with characters’ ages simply because they’re lazy. Banshee should be much closer to Prof. X’s age than the rest of the team. Hell, why not use his daughter, Siryn, who possesses the same powers? And Mystique is Nightcrawler’s MOTHER for Pete’s sake, so going with a teen version is just plain wrong.

Then there’s Havok. The younger brother of Cyclops in the comics, their powers are somewhat similar. However, at no point in the first 40 years of the X-Men did I ever see him have a red signature on his powers, nor did he need an apparatus to focus his powers. In fact, pretty much everything but the destructive force of his powers is handled wrong in the film.

Plus there’s this article at IGN where producer Bryan Singer (who directed the first two films) says they decided to break the sibling bond and make it so Havok is NO LONGER Cyclops’ brother. WTF?!? He also talks about realizing this isn’t *really* the first class but that he “liked the title”!?!? DOUBLE WTF?!?

Look, if you’re going to skew younger on the characters, why not just make “The New Mutants”? Certain key X-Men could have been brought in to make cameos (but be placed prominently in trailers to attract audiences) and then you could build an entirely new franchise from there. And any references to the X-Men for marketing purposes would be ENTIRELY JUSTIFIED!!! Hold on, I need some aspirin.

Okay, better.

Look, I realize that a film adaptation of a long running comic book series isn’t easy to bring to screen. And I realize that X-Fans will probably flock to the theater anyway, if only to point out all the inaccuracies held within. Still, that doesn’t make sloppy character additions and story development okay.

There are plenty of amazing stories within the history of the comic franchise that could be brought to screen, with only minor touchups being needed to the script in order to make it flow for cinematic purposes. Why is it so hard to pick up a few copies and read them? Hell, there’s a limited 4-issue series, X-Men vs. Avengers, which (you guessed it) involves the X-Men AND the Avengers. That would make for a doozy of a film considering all the star power necessary … if anyone cared that the story was just sitting there waiting to be adapted for the screen.

Vaughn has already brought one comic book to theaters and kept things very consistent with the source material. Sadly, whether through his own doing, the screenwriters, the insistence of the producers (which includes Marvel), or some combination thereof, there isn’t a real sense of integrity being applied to this franchise – which is arguably the biggest of the entire company.

We’ve seen “Iron Man“, “Spider-Man” and “Thor” all get faithful cinematic treatments. Why not bring that same sensibility to the X-Men? Sure, Sony and Paramount are behind the other properties but is it really 20th Century Fox’s handling that has botched things?

I doubt it’s that simple. And I doubt anything I, or anyone else, can say will make a difference. It is, after all, a business to churn these out and make money. Whether or not art happens along the way seems to be a happy coincidence.

Now maybe “X-Men: First Class” will be a fun film. And more than likely it will do enough business to greenlight the rest of the trilogy that Fox hopes to make (All franchises are done in sets of 3 these days). But it won’t really be true to the comics and those of us who loved them will once again be left looking like defensive idiots decrying things the masses couldn’t give two shits about.

And that just makes me sad. Way to go Matthew Vaughn. Way to go Marvel. Way to go Fox. You’ve made a 34 year-old man sad. Enjoy counting your millions of dollars (as I’m sure you all will). I’ll just take solace knowing I didn’t have to sell a piece of my soul in the process.