X-Men: First Class producer/former X-director Bryan Singer recently revealed that First Class takes place in the 1960s and has a pulpy Silver Age feel. And y'know what? I think this might be the thing that makes the X-franchise weird again.
In an interview with AICN, Singer divulged that X-Men: First Class wouldn't be a modern reboot, but rather a 1960s prequel that eschews the first three film's cast in favor of a new roster of oddball mutants. Here's how AICN's Harry Knowles summed up the setting of First Class:
[T]he film takes place in the 1960's. John F Kennedy is the President of the United States. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are on TV doing marches [...] Vaughn is technologically inspired by JAMES BOND's tech of the time. The costumes will be far more comic bookish than we've seen before - and while Scott and Jean aren't here - Cyclops' brother Alex Summers aka Havoc will be, as played by Lucas Till.
Naturally, some folks are nonplussed why Vaughn would replace Scott and Jean with the Wavy Gravy incarnations of unknowns Darwin and Sebastian Shaw (and no, I'm not referring to "the first Anakin Skywalker" Sebastian Shaw — I mean the X-villain who's basically a super-strong Liberace). But I think this radical change of scenery could make the X-films something they haven't been in almost a decade — surprising. Here are four reasons why I'm liking what I hearing:
1.) This sounds like a departure from the standard superhero origin story.
Comic book cinema has been profitable, whiz-bang entertainment. That's why we're seeing Hollywood buy up every character this side of M.O.D.O.K. But the first film in any franchise is inevitably the least interesting. Why? It must follow a familiar (and often lengthy) trajectory that's old hat if you have even a passing knowledge of the mythology. Peter Parker must be bitten by a spider, act like an ass, and learn that great power comes with great responsibility. Bruce Wayne must watch his parents die, act like an ass, and become Homo chiroptera. The origin is a known quantity, and it's a necessary evil to get it out of the way.
It's not until the second film that we get some surprises. Think X2, Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2, and heck Superman 2, what with Kal-El's Magic S force field. That surprised the dickens out of me.
Singer's description of First Class — with its jet-setting, James Bond gadgetry, flamboyant villains (the Hellfire Club?!?), and Silver Age costumes — sounds like a gonzo departure from the streamlined superhero blockbuster we've come to expect (and incidentally, it sounds truer to the classic X-mythos — no Ultimate-izing here). Sure, we'll see the inevitable rift forming between Xavier and Magneto, but this 60s setting seems more Rube Goldberg, less assembly line. They probably won't go with the late 60s Flower Power route, but think about it — far-out astral plane rap sessions between Chuck and Mags scored to Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band! It'd be like The Doors with superpowers!
2.) This sounds like a departure from the Origins format.
Think back to X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Despite the many chase scenes, the film was ultimately devoid of tension. A large part of this was the prequel format — we already knew what happened to Wolverine thanks to X2. The more tantalizing bits (Wolverine and Sabretooth fighting in the Civil War and their tenure with Team X) took the backseat to a string of events that were already known to moviegoers.
We knew how Wolverine got his adamantium claws (and how he fell out with his special ops team) in his 5 minute conversation with William Stryker in X2. It seemed a tad superfluous to have an entire movie spinning out of that short and totally satisfactory exchange. I guess Origins was a good jumping-on point if you'd never seen an X-film, but the franchise isn't exactly arthouse.
Singer's description sounds like it could avoid the laborious process of building up things we know will happen. The 1960s setting sounds divorced enough from what we've seen in prior X-films. Sure, Charles Xavier will end up in a wheelchair at some point. Fine, Magneto will wake up on the wrong side of the bed one morning. Hopefully these inevitable sequences won't eclipse the subplots we haven't seen before.
I'm hoping First Class' temporal distance from the original X-trilogy will prevent the needless reiteration that marred Origins. I'm also praying there's no character on par with JuggaloPool.
3.) This could be a reboot by stealth.
If First Class is a success and there's enough demand to see the film's characters again, we could see new versions of the X-Men who appeared in the previous films (barring Wolverine, who Hugh Jackman appears to have a lock on). With the exception of the folks who gilded their commodes with Krugerrands using the film's profits, I don't think anyone on the planet was satisfied with X3.
4.) Betty Draper as Age of Aquarius White Queen.
January Jones as Emma Frost = brilliant casting. Make this happen, folks. Also, make Oliver Platt's mysterious "Man In Black" character Mr. Sinister. Why? Just because.