The news that director Bryan Singer is going to return to the X-Men movie franchise with prequel X-Men: First Class has been greeted with excitement across the industry. So why're we convinced it's the wrong move for everyone involved?
It's tempting to just leave it with a cheap shot and say "Have you seen Valkyrie?" but our concern for First Class is slightly more genuine than that. We'll grant you that Singer's first two entries in the X franchise are easily the best two movies in the series to date, and also that he clearly has a lot of love for the characters. We just don't think that he should've come back, is all.
We can see why Singer would be tempted by the lure of returning to the X-Men movies; not only were they arguably his creative highpoint outside of The Usual Suspects, but they were clearly his financial highpoint (Compare X2's $85,558,731 opening weekend with Superman Returns' $52,535,096 - the latter, in fact, is even lower than X-Men's opening, despite the first X-Men movie having to deal with lower awareness than the first movie featuring one of the most well-known fictional characters in over a decade). As his other projects seemingly stall for one reason or another - Remember his Logan's Run remake? Or, from earlier this year, his Battlestar Galactica movie reboot? - there has to be a sense of security in returning to an already successful franchise and the adoration of millions of fans for whom his work is the benchmark of quality. But those expectations become a double-edged sword (Quadruple-edged? There are two separate sets of expectations, after all): Charged with not only maintaining the financial success of the franchise but also reigniting hardcore fan excitement for it, Singer has landed himself in a high-profile situation very unlike what the one he was in first time around. All sets of eyes will be on his every move, not just comic fans critical that Wolverine is too tall and not Canadian. How would Singer react if Richard Donner visited to make sure the franchise was being maintained in the proper manner, as he did for X-Men Origins: Wolverine director Gavin Hood? What happens if Singer's ideas for First Class don't fit in with any of the other movies being simultaneously developed for the franchise?
It sounds both trite and obvious, but X-Men as a concept is about evolution, not devolution. Sure, it's also a civil rights metaphor and a superhero story, but at the heart of it is the idea of coming to terms with something new and different, even if (especially if) that something new and different had previously been something as familiar as ourselves or our loved ones. With that in mind, bringing Singer back to the franchise seems counter-intuitive at best. We've already seen what he thinks of the characters and is capable of; why can't someone else play with the toys and bring something else to them now?
It would be different if X-Men: First Class hasn't been revealed to be exactly the prequel that it sounds like - According to Singer himself, the movie will focus on
the formative years of Xavier and Magneto, and the formation of the school and where there relationship took a wrong turn... There is a romantic element, and some of the mutants from 'X-Men' will figure into the plot, though I don't want to say which ones.
- but knowing that it is just the backstory to what we've already seen (like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as well; It's worth wondering why Fox seems scared to make movies set after X-Men: The Last Stand. Yes, it was a bad movie, but that bad?) saps the possibility of true surprise. We know where the main characters end up, even if we hadn't read the original comics. Hiding in the past and clinging onto what you know may sum up the attitude of most of those making X-Men comics for the last two decades, but that doesn't mean that it's not missing the point of the story they're supposed to be telling.
(Selfishly, we would much rather have seen Josh Schwartz' take on the idea, now sadly dumped to make way for Singer. Not only is he new to the franchise, but his other work - be it The OC, Chuck or Gossip Girl - suggests that he could've brought a new tone to the movies, a lighter one that could also be more in tune with the teen characters First Class is said to feature in addition to the younger Xavier and Magneto. Somewhere, there's probably a great script out there...)
We're not doubting that Singer's First Class will be a financial success - He's not a bad filmmaker, after all, and if the franchise is strong enough for The Last Stand to be a massive hit, it's unlikely he could sink it unless he was really trying - but, in terms of the quality of the movie? We kind of wish he'd passed, realized that he'd done his part already, and moved on to fresher pastures, allowing someone else to take the wheel. As it is, he's setting himself - and us - up for the possibility of disappointment and frustration. They say you can't go home again for a reason, after all.