24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: X-Men

Bryan Singer: An 'X-Men: First Class' sequel could be set in Vietnam, or amid the civil rights movement

June 7, 2011 |  8:49 pm

As "X-Men: First Class" completes nearly a week of release, thoughts wander, well, much further ahead, all the way to a sequel.

Though they're not confirming any new development, executives at studio Fox have certainly hoped that the movie's performance warrants a new installment. Like every big Hollywood company these days, Fox craves a franchise, and young actors such as Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy were cast at least in part so they can grow with the series.

The plot of Matthew Vaughn's movie -- which tells of the origins of the mutant superhero group against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis -- does pave the way for a follow-up. [Minor spoiler alert: Please skip ahead to the next paragraph if you'd like to avoid finding out details]. It ends in a time  when the tension between mutants and humans has only just begun, and the franchise's main relationship between Dr. Charles Xavier and Magneto has yet to harden into archrivalry.

But even if "First Class" turns into an international smash, picking up the trail could be tricky. Once you've gone back and shown where a group like the X-Men came from, it's an open question how much mileage you can get from continuing to show where they came from.

Then again, prequels can come in bunches -- "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" was followed by two more. And "X-Men" does offer some juicy possibilities.

Producer Bryan Singer, at least, has a few ideas about where the franchise could go from here.

In an interview last week, the filmmaker who conceived of the new film told 24 Frames that he sees future installments tracking the evolution of the mutants as they navigate -- or even offer parables about -- 20th century America.

"I don't know if every movie has to be a history lesson. But there's a lot of history to cover. If we sequelized this, it could inhabit a whole world of the 20th century," he said. "When ['First Class'] happened, Kennedy had not been assassinated and the Vietnam War hadn't happened yet."

Nor, he said, would it need to deal just with military matters. "What's really interesting about the '60s setting is the civil rights movement," he said.

The filmmaker noted that the principal "First Class" characters of Magneto and Xavier -- who respectively advocate for armed struggle and peaceful co-existence -- lend themselves to the real-world struggle for racial equality. "What's fascinating about these two characters is that they're really the Malcolm X and Martin Luther King of comic mythology," he said.

Singer is aware of the dangers of overdoing a franchise. Of the third X-Men movie, "X-Men: The Last Stand," which he was involved with only early on, he said, "Some things worked. I'm not sure all of it worked." And he believes the 2009 spinoff "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," with which he was not involved, had its issues. "'Wolverine' told a story, but it didn't always feel like a story that was very essential or interesting."

But he embraced the idea of moving forward with a sixth "X-Men" film, especially if it meant the chance to continue weaving in real-world events. "You don't need to hit people over the head with them in every movie or every scene," he said. "But having them at the core of the conflict is what I think makes it all work."

-- Steven Zeitchik



Should 'X-Men: First Class' be considered a hit?

'X-Men: First Class': Will superhero fans go for an idea-driven period piece?

Critical Mass: 'X-Men: First Class' graduates with most critics' honors

Photo: James McAvoy, left, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult in "X-Men: First Class." Credit: 20th Century Fox


Should 'X-Men: First Class' be considered a hit?

June 6, 2011 |  5:30 am

The box-office numbers for every new release presents arguments for and against labeling the movie a hit. Some of these debates are lopsided -- "Mars Needs Moms" was inarguably a flop, and "Fast Five" an unmitigated success -- but other cases are more ambiguous. Among the trickier ones to come along this year is "X-Men: First Class," Fox's superhero action-adventure starring James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.

Upon opening this weekend, the film took in $56 million in the U.S. and an additional $64 million in 74 markets overseas, according to estimates from the studio. Those would seem to be, as my colleague Amy Kaufman described in her post on our sister blog Company Town,  "a pretty good but not great start" for a film that was, among other things, collecting only 2-D ticket prices.

An in-depth analysis, however, proves trickier. As Kaufman writes, the film had the lowest opening-weekend total of the three "X-Men" films that immediately preceded it, besting only the $54.5 million of the first movie.  (The previous three editions tallied $85 million, $103 million and $86 million dating back to 2003.) That would seem to indicate a fall-off. But should the new movie be compared to those films and thus be deemed lacking, as some box-office pundits have it?

Or should "First Class" be seen as an entirely new beast, a la the first "X-Men," and regarded as a success, as the studio would no doubt prefer? As Fox senior vice president of distribution Chris Aronson told Kaufman, "I don't think [the fall-off from the recent films] is significant. It exceeded the first 'X-Men,' and this movie has an ensemble of actors who are not known. They are all incredibly talented, and they will now be known after this movie."

The problem with drawing comparisons -- and, indeed, with gauging the overall success of "X-Men: First Class" -- lies with how much we should define the movie as something new in the first place. And that's not an easy question.
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'X-Men First Class': Will superhero fans go for an idea-driven period piece?

June 3, 2011 |  9:16 pm

It worked for "Zelig," and helped make "Forrest Gump" a classic. But can the blending of 20th-century history with movie mythology do something similar for "X-Men: First Class"?

As it seeks to lure filmgoers this weekend, that's just one of the questions facing Matthew Vaughn's comic book movie, which among other things offers an alternate history of the Cuban missile crisis. (Check out the image above, from a Fox  promotional tie-in; all that's missing is McAvoy's Charles Xavier telling JFK he had one too many Dr Peppers.) After all, many in its target audience weren't glints in the eyes of their baby-boomer parents when President Kennedy took to the airwaves to warn of  impending nuclear threats.

As we explore in a print piece in The Times, "X-Men: First Class" may seem like ordinary summer entertainment. But like many of its characters, it conceals some significant quirks.

For starters, the  Xavier-Magneto film is an origin story but not a full-fledged prequel (since it covers some of the same territory alluded to in Bryan Singer's 2000 "X-Men"), a reboot that's also, but not totally, kind of a spin-off. As Fox production president Emma Watts says, "It's so funny that everybody wants to define movies these days -- a prequel, a reboot, an origin story. But every situation is unique. I wish I could give this a clear definition."

It also contains debates about the ethics of revenge not commonly found in a summer entertainment -- or, for that matter, in Vaughn's previous "Kick-Ass."

And it's a film that's trying to live within an existing superhero world while jumpstarting a new franchise, much as Christopher Nolan did with Batman back in 2005. "There's a lot in 'First Class' that harks back to early 'X-Men' films, but also has an energy that's new," said producer Bryan Singer, who came up with the concept for the new film. "You don't want to alter the essence, but you can alter the history."

The movie also has to make do without the leading-man presence of Hugh Jackman and instead try to attract filmgoers with acclaimed but less established actors such as McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender. And it marshals them in the hope of achieving the formidable task of washing out the sour taste left in fans' mouths with the last pure 'X-Men" film, Brett Ratner's "X-Men: Last Stand" in 2006.

Still, the reviews thus far have been solid and the early box-office numbers are good.  A sprinkling of history and some morality debates may be, in the end, just what we want with our superheroes.

-- Steven Zeitchik



Critical Mass: X-Men First Class graduates with most critics' honors

With X-Men First Class, Fox tries a new mutation

Photo: A digitally altered image of McAvoy's Charles Xavier and John F. Kennedy from an "X-Men" app promotion. Credit: 20th Century Fox

Critical Mass: 'X-Men: First Class' graduates with most critics' honors

June 3, 2011 |  4:22 pm


Though a few comic-book heroes are getting their first major filmic at-bats this summer (Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern), the X-Men have been around for a few years. Their latest, "X-Men: First Class," has a lot about it to cause concern. For one thing, it's a fourquel. Not only that, it's a prequel. It lacks the star power of Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Hugh Jackman. And the previous installment, "X-Men: The Last Stand," didn't really excite anyone except for director Brett Ratner's accountant. Yet, surprisingly, against the odds, director Matthew Vaughn seems to have made a superhero epic worth watching.

That's not to say that all the critics are on board with the film. The Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey sees the greatness that could have been present in this latest blockbuster but feels that it's undone by the flaws. She writes, "Those flashes of amazing are fleeting, ultimately undone by a frustrating mire of multiple plots, overreaching special effects, leaden ancillary players and world-ending military standoffs that have all the tension of a water balloon fight."

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'X-Men' filmmaker Bryan Singer says his new film takes him in a very different direction

June 2, 2011 |  4:09 pm

After an eight-year hiatus, Bryan Singer returns to the superhero fold this weekend with "X-Men: First Class," a film he conceived and produced. But fans will get another side of the filmmaker when he comes out with "Jack the Giant Killer," a new take on a classic piece of British folklore, next year.

Singer, who is currently in London working on the movie, told 24 Frames that while a classic fairy tale is a switch for him, he believes it's a welcome one. "I think this is the antidote to 'Valkyrie,' " he said, referring to his Tom Cruise WWII movie from 2008, which  involved the attempt to slay a very different sort of villain. 

"With that movie, I was so obsessed with the accuracy and the history and the detail, and this film is a fantastical time in England. It's not pegged to a particular time in history, and it deals with fun and broad characters," the "X-Men" auteur said (more on him and that film shortly).

"Jack" -- which counts among its writers Singer's "Usual Suspects" and "Valkyrie" collaborator Christopher McQuarrie -- plays off an English fairy tale of unknown origin. In many of the incarnations, it involves a poor country boy who slays evil giants during King Arthur's reign. (It's often associated with the fairy tale of Jack and the Giant Beanstalk, in which the hero also faces off with a giant.)

Singer's take on the archetype centers on a farmhand who accidentally opens a door between worlds allowing non-human giants into our universe, in turn motivating Jack to attempt to slay the giants and rescue a princess to boot.

The battle between humans and inhumans is bound to draw some comparisons to the "X-Men" franchise. But the filmmaker said that in at least one respect, his upcoming film deviates from his well-known superhero work. "It's the first time in one of my films that there's a romance that's not fraught with a love triangle," he said. Then he added, giving a small laugh, "The simpleness of this romance is my cure for all the love triangles that permeated the 'X-Men.' "

"Jack" stars Nicholas Hoult, who appears as Beast in the new "X-Men," as the title character. For "Deadwood" fans, the film also offers the added bonus of seeing Ian McShane in a feature role. (He plays the princess' unhappy father.)

Fairy tales have become all the rage in Hollywood -- witness the battle to get "Snow White" to the screen -- and Singer said his film fits squarely in that mold. But he also said that rather than just retell a story, he wanted to explore the art of narrative itself.

"I think this takes it a step further -- it's all about the nature of storytelling," he said. "The tale is told by certain characters, and then it gets retold. It shows you can't separate the story from the way it's told."


The battle over 'Snow White' movies

Hollywood is churning out fairy tales with a twist

'X-Men' star Kevin Bacon has a solution to fame

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "X-Men." Credit: 20th Century Fox

'X-Men: First Class' looks to live up to its name [Video]

April 27, 2011 |  7:22 pm

Compared to other comic-book movies, "X-Men: First Class" hasn't made much noise ahead of its June release. But that's starting to change, and will likely continue to change, with the release of the below trailer, which makes the Matthew Vaughn film look like the best of the summer superhero lot.

Some of the Professor X-Magneto back story we've seen in prior spots, but that doesn't diminish the trailer's virtues: subtly creepy special effects as humans become mutants, a keen sense of pacing -- things actually don't explode until well into the the trailer! -- and even the suggestion of some rich themes.

As with some prequels, the movie does seem to require knowledge about the films that came before (er, after). Still, it's hard to find fault with a more organic integration of a historical event (the Cuban missile crisis) than its "Captain America" competitor, or with one of the more intriguing casts this side of "Iron Man"; Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence are all here and have, apparently, been given something interesting to do.

-- Steven Zeitchik



Gavin Hood looks to play 'Ender's Game'

September 20, 2010 |  6:25 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Fans of Orson Scott Card and his seminal science-fiction work "Ender's Game" were despondent last year when the author revealed that he thought the movie could be hitting the rocks.

But the project about a boy hero is now back in active development, sources say, as independent production company Odd Lot Entertainment pushes forward on a movie version of the Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel.

Most interesting, sources  say there's now a big-name filmmaker involved with the project -- Gavin Hood, who directed the Oscar-winning "Tsotsi" and last year's comic book franchise "X Men Origins: Wolverine." Hood has done a rewrite of Card's most recent script and is developing the project as a director.

That level of involvement doesn't mean a filmmaker  will wind up directing a film, of course. But for a project that's struggled as much as this one, it's a start.

Sci-fi novelist and Mormon activist Card garnered significant acclaim with his 1985 novel "Ender's Game." Based on his own short story, Card's book tells of a world in which humans face a serious threat from an alien race known as the Formics and begin training elite military units in response. Against this backdrop comes Andrew Wiggin, also known as Ender, a child who becomes a top-flight solider and helps to save Earth (by fighting simulations that turn out to be real).

The book gained acclaim for its dystopian militarism and also generated controversy for what critics said was the justification of extreme violence, as well as the use of child soldiers. Card wrote several sequels depicting the character as as a teenager and an adult, and the property spun off comic book editions as well. Card returned in 2009 with the novel "Ender in Exile," in which the character -- Spoiler alert: Skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to find out more about the book --  is sent to a distant planet after fighting off another alien wave because he is too ruthless even for those who trained him.

There have been numerous attempts to get a film project of "Ender's Game" going over the years; at one point, Wolfgang Petersen was said to be mulling it as a director. In this "Call of Duty," war-in-the-Middle-East age, there's a timeliness to a story of simulated battle and young people in far-flung death struggles. But studios have found it tricky to take on the story, which, with its large-scale battles,  they deemed as requiring a significant budget and a sophisticated visual aesthetic.

At the same time, Card himself has insisted that a movie not go effects-heavy; he told The Times last year that he envisioned a film "where the human relationships are absolutely essential -- an honest presentation of the story."

In that sense, Hood may be the best of both worlds. The South African's shantytown racial drama "Tsotsi" was a film rife with human emotion (it centers on a thug who finds an orphaned baby). But with "Wolverine," he's also worked on a large-scale production, one with big budgets, big stars and big studio politics. (He dealt with reshoots, rumors about producer Richard Donner calling the shots and then, to top if all off, a piracy scandal.) Tackling ferocious alien races, after all that, may be child's play.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Ender's Game Comic. Credit: Marvel Comics

'Deadpool' shows signs of life

July 30, 2010 |  4:18 pm

It's been dizzying to follow the will-he-or-won't-he reports about Robert Rodriguez directing "Deadpool," the Ryan Reynolds X-Men spinoff.

Reports last month that Rodriguez had been offered the director's chair on "Deadpool" met with a swirl of speculation and/or denials from the filmmaker's camp as well as studio Fox. (The most anyone would agree to is that Rodriguez had been sent Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's script.)

But we're hearing that after a few weeks of dancing, Rodriguez and studio Fox are negotiating. There's no deal yet, and the sides need to agree on a number of key points, but it's moved beyond the casual discussion stage and into the more substantive realm of deal points.

Rodriguez is making "Spy Kids 4," which itself comes after he finished the exploitation action picture "Machete," but would be looking for a big movie and one that can be marketed into a hit. As for the picture itself, the mouthy Marvel mercenary would entail violence and comedy in equal measure, and Rodriguez has been adept at combining the two. We'd pull for a Danny Trejo cameo, though.

— Steven Zeitchik



Swimming in a murky Deadpool

The unlikely politics of Robert Rodriguez's Machete

James McAvoy will stand at the head of 'X-Men: First Class'

May 27, 2010 |  4:49 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Fox is moving at superheroic speed to begin filling out the members of "X-Men: First Class"  -- starting with the man who leads the pack.

Mcavoy The studio is hiring James McAvoy to play the role of Charles Xavier, the professor who organizes the X-Men band of mutants into a group (and force for good). Patrick Stewart played Xavier in the original set of pictures, but of course as an origin story, many of the characters in "First Class" will skew younger. 

McAvoy, who's next up in the Robert Redford post-Civil War drama "The Conspirator," has played in films with superhero themes before, primarily as a lead character in the assassin picture "Wanted."

Matthew Vaughn is directing the new "X-Men," which is set to start shooting this summer. With McAvoy's casting, get ready for a new raft of mutants to follow not far behind him.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: James McAvoy. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

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'X-Men: First Class' gets on a supersonic jet

May 4, 2010 |  4:56 pm

After all the back and forth between Matthew Vaughn and "X-Men: First Class," the director is not only in, but Fox is moving quickly on the project. So quickly, in fact, that the movie will be in theaters in just over a year.

Fox confirmed Vaughn's attachment today and said that the film will begin shooting this summer (!) in time for a June 3, 2011, release. The movie basically hits reset on the franchise by going back to the twentysomethings who became the superheroes we later knew, "Star Trek" for the spandex set. So casting for said twentysomethings is likely to go into overdrive; if you're a fan of an up-and-comer (or represent one) these will be good and busy times.

All that is positive news for fans, but it really fills up the late spring release calendar for next year. "Mission: Impossible IV" comes out just one week prior to the "X-Men" release date, and the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" is set for release just two weeks before.

As for the Hollywood back story, apparently all of Vaughn's hesitations and the studio's gyrations are resolved; no quote from Vaughn in the statement, but Bryan Singer, who is one of the producers, says  that Vaughn has "a deft hand with multiple characters and storylines, and a great love of the X-Men universe."

From not having a director to starting production on a big-budget action movie in a matter of months-- it's almost like the anti-"Moneyball."

--Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

Photo: "X-Men." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Buy the “X-Men” trilogy on DVD for under $20
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