It was fair to view Fox's announcement of the prequel story "X-Men: First Class" with caution after "X-Men: The Last Stand" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" failed to meet audience expectations. The hiring of "Kick-Ass" director Matthew Vaughn to helm the prequel was the first sign that changes were in store. Vaughnn originally replaced Bryan Singer on "The Last Stand," and was responsible for the casting of Kelsey Grammar and Vinnie Jones before he dropped out himself to deal with private concerns. "First Class" is, as Vaughn put it in this exclusive interview with Comic Book Resources, "unfinished business."
The movie is great, as you'll learn in more detail from our review next week, though Vaughn doesn't stick to the script or continuity established in Marvel's "X-Men: First Class" comics. Indeed, the director admits to never having read and not knowing anything about the series of miniseries, beyond the fact that they're not what his movie is. Vaughn is fine with that, and never once worried that a poor reception might stem from this lack of faithfulness to the comic's story.
"I didn't give a shit, to be honest," the director told us matter-of-factly. "I got pitched a story by Fox as being set in the Cold War with the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. [They said] I could go off and make my 'Bond meets X-Men' movie, and that's really all I cared about."
You definitely get a sense of the Bond DNA permeating Vaughn's creation while watching the movie. Classic Bond, that is -- the slick, even fun-loving MI6 super-spy who was a fan of free love and daring escapes, as opposed to the grittier, more naturalistic Bond we've seen in the recent Daniel Craig-starring efforts. Vaughn watched "You Only Live Twice" a number of times as he prepared for this superhero period piece, along with all of the Sean Connery-led Bond flicks, but he didn't limit himself to Ian Fleming's greatest creation.
"We looked at the '60s [X-Men] comics and I loved all the old '60s and '70s movies growing up. So I was very comfortable about creating the look that I wanted. It wasn't that hard," Vaughn explained. "Our biggest fear was falling into 'Austin Powers' territory, so I had to make sure we were nowhere near any kind of camp."
Vaughn admits that the costumes -- not just the superhero outfits, but the actual period costuming -- were all inspired by how the characters dressed in the '60s comics. Similarly, "You Only Live Twice" stood out among the Bond movies he looked at, the narrative arc of a villain trying to set off a nuclear war sharing common ground with the unfolding events in "First Class."
Vaughn gives a lot of credit to Bryan Singer, who of course directed the first two "X-Men" movies for Fox and remained involved as a producer for the remaining films in the franchise. However, despite his close involvement in the initial development of the X-Men film mythology, Singer took a very hands-off approach to "First Class" as the movie came together.
"He was the perfect producer," Vaughn told us. "Once I pitched him how I wanted to make the movie, then went off and wrote the script and gave it to him, he read it and went, 'Look, you've got a handle on this. I'm a director, you're a director. You know the last thing you need is a producer interfering. If anyone does, call me and I'll get them off your back. Good luck!'"
"He let me get on with it," Vaughn continued. "I'm going to sound arrogant, but they didn't hire me to be a director who would do what they wanted, they hired me to go off and make my own film. They hired me to direct it -- and I'm quite opinionated."
Indeed, Vaughn's opinions work in the context of the movie, but there are bound to be a few comic book purists who, if nothing else, take issue with the title and its complete lack of a connection with the comic books bearing the same name. Vaughn admits to knowing "every frame" of the previous "X-Men" movies, and slyly states that he studied "X2" "far harder than 'X3' or 'Wolverine,'" but pleasing the comic book fans wasn't his first priority.
"It's my job to make a film as good as possible. I need to please a cinema audience, number one, and a comic book audience, number two," he said. "Hopefully I can do both, but you have to make a film that works."
"I just wanted to make my own version of an 'X-Men' film. I didn't put too much thought in; I just had a vision for what I thought the film should be."
The results will be right there on the screen for all to see on Friday, June 3, but early reports -- and my own response to the critic's screening -- point to a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It's the rare blockbuster-style movie that also serves up a compelling narrative, one with enough plot threads that can't be easily summed up in a single sentence. Despite the existence of the earlier trilogy, "First Class" in many ways feels like the first chapter of a new franchise.
"I think it could go anywhere we want [for a sequel]," Vaughn said. "There are just so many opportunities. That's why I think the end of the movie, the way it sets you up, is great. Now we're gonna see two people that were great to watch as friends, now let's see them as enemies."
That shouldn't be a spoiler; anyone who has been following this movie knows that the relationship between Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is at the heart of the film's story. Vaughn is already thinking about where he'll take things next, and even has a strong idea of how the next movie will start, assuming there is one.
"I have a fun idea for starting the [sequel] with [President John F.] Kennedy being shot, and we reveal that Magneto is the guy controlling the 'magic bullet.'"
"X-Men: First Class," in theaters on June 3, stars James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr, Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy, Jennifer Lawrence as Raven Darkholme, Lucas Till as Alex Summers/Havok, Caleb Landry Jones as Sean Cassidy/Banshee, Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw, Oliver Platt as the Man in Black, Jason Flemyng as Azazel and Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggart.