Bryan Singer’s X-Men films will one day be regarded as important. They were the earliest shots of the superhero movie revolution, and they helped pave the way for progressively better, more comic book-y movies based on four color characters. But they’re not particularly good; a recent revisit to X2 left me actually stunned at how bad the film is. There are a couple of strong sequences, but the movie in general feels half formed, cheap and poorly put together. It was hot shit in 2003, but I think most of us were just psyched to get a hint of Phoenix in a movie.
After laying fallow for years (not counting the unbearable X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Marvel mutantverse is returning to screens next month with X-Men: First Class, a prequel that tells the origins of the X-Men and the story of the fractured friendship of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, aka Professor X and Magneto. And get this: the movie is awesome.
Like, really, truly awesome. Big, fun, great looking and with wonderful characters played by cool actors - X-Men: First Class is everything you kind of hope a superhero movie would be when they started making these things. It’s a film that embraces the goofy fun of Silver Age comics while taking itself exactly seriously enough. In a lot of ways it has a Grant Morrison vibe, a feeling of pop adventure fun (although without Morrison’s trademark weirdness).
But if you’re watching X-Men: First Class and trying to reconcile it with the previous four X-Men branded movies, you’re going to be in big trouble. That may be the most comic book-y thing about it - the film brazenly breaks continuity from the previous films (for example Emma Frost is a grown up ten years before she appeared as a child in X-Men Origins: Wolverine) while still trying to fit with that continuity. The opening scene, with young Erik at Auschwitz, is an almost shot for shot recreation of the same scene from X-Men (including the music), so it isn’t like the movie is hiding its ties to the original.
I don’t think this is a big problem for the movie; Matthew Vaughn and his small army of writers navigate the continuity waters well enough. And the movie is so good that anybody spending time worrying about the continuity nitpicks is probably just an asshole.
But if the film spawns a new franchise, as Fox is hoping (and me too), continuity could eventually get tangled up. More than that, the new series could find itself stuck with crappy versions of great characters - nobody needs the Vinnie Jones version of Juggernaut to be canon. And the new franchise will also be unable to touch other established characters, since they’re spoken for. We won’t get to see Alex Summers - Havok - talk to his brother Scott, aka Cyclops, because Cyclops is maybe a fetus in 1962 according to the timeline previously established. We’ll never get to have Wolverine hang out with this group because of the strictures of his movie continuity.
So fuck it. Fox should simply toss the original continuity and walk away from it. Nobody’s going to care if the events of the first three X-Men films get retconned out of existence. What people are going to care about is seeing the great mutant characters reborn in a more robust, fun and frankly satisfying context. I understand - from a business standpoint - why Fox is hedging their bets on rewriting their continuity (Wolverine sucked, but at almost 180 million dollars domestic it’s a very profitable movie), but they can throw out the bathwater while keeping the Hugh Jackman baby. Again, nobody’s going to care if the events of X-Men: Second Class contradict the events of X-Men Origins: Wolverine as long as the next movie is as good as the first one.
James Bond did it. Batman did it. Fox has let the X-Men halfway do it, but going forward from here (and if there’s justice X-Men: First Class will be a huge hit and spawn at least two sequels), the studio needs to go all in and remove these swinging 60s mutants from the shackles of the other four movies.