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X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

Beginnings
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is a new beginning for the X-Men. The story is by Sheldon Turner, an Academy Award nominee for co-scripting Up in the Air, and Bryan Singer – whose work as the director of the first two films in the series, X-Men and X2: X-Men United, was hailed by critics and audiences around the world for their skillful and seamless blending of drama, action, scale and social-political themes. Singer's

X-Men films became a template for the resurgence in comics- to-movie adaptations, and landmarks in the new age of superhero films. Most of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is set in the 1960s, an apt period for an origins tale because it was during this decade that Marvel Comics editor, head writer and art director Stan Lee, along with Jack Kirby, created the X-Men comics. The X-Men, like many of their Marvel predecessors, are an unusual heroic group – at times sarcastic, anti-social and clearly flawed, yet sympathetic when battling the demons of their love lives, tackling the traumas of self-esteem, or taking on powerful villains in their universe of special powers. They are the children of the atom, homo superior, and the next link in the chain of evolution. Each mutant was born with a unique genetic mutation, which at puberty manifested itself in extraordinary powers. In a world increasingly filled with hatred, prejudice and fear, they are scientific oddities…freaks of nature…outcasts who are feared and loathed by those who cannot accept their differences.

"The first order of business in conceiving the story,” says Singer, "was figuring out the era in which both Charles and Erik would have met, when they were in their mid-twenties. We decided that would be the early ‘60s – the height of the civil rights movement and the Cold War. Both aspects of that period provided an exciting opportunity to explore events that would shape our modern world.” One of the Cold War's flashpoints was the Cuban missile crisis, during which the threat of sudden global extinction loomed large, and which provided the ultimate stakes for mutants to reveal themselves to the world and prevent a conflagration that would engulf the planet.

An equally important context for the film is the issue of civil rights – will the mutants be accepted by humanity, or will they be seen as threats to be imprisoned or even eliminated? Should mutants embrace their differences and reign as the planet's superior beings, or should they become part of the fabric of society? "I've always been fascinated by the concept of assimilation versus aggression – and when the civil rights movement of the day becomes the mutant rights movement of tomorrow,” says Singer.

The relationship between Charles and Erik connects to that theme and exemplifies the ideological and philosophical differences of that era. They are essentially cut from the same cloth, and both see mutants as potential subjects of persecution. However, Charles lives to protect those who fear him while Erik lives to destroy them. Each believes his side is right. Neither is willing to compromise. Says director Matthew Vaughn: "Erik is very suspicious of humans, and Charles thinks everything is going to be fine, and that they can trust humans to accept the emerging mutants. Erik replies, ‘They're going to turn on us and kill us.' And he's right.”

Infusing X-MEN: FIRST CLASS with humanistic, character-based elements was another priority for Vaughn and Singer. "The magic of genre films is you can tell stories about the human condition from an unexpected vantage point, dressed up in spectacle and wonder,” notes Singer. "That's especially important for the X-Men films because that universe presents characters with a lot of depth. The best X-Men stories celebrate that complexity, and that's what we all wanted for this film.”

"In every film I do,” adds Vaughn, whose credits include the acclaimed independent films Layer Cake and Kick-Ass, "I ask, ‘Where is the human angle? Every character and action beat must have one. If I can slip in something that helps audiences connect with and care about the characters, it will only enhance the experience of watching the movie. If you don't care about the characters, then what's the point?

"X-MEN: FIRST CLASS has big ideas and big moments,” Vaughn continues. "We're not always relying on huge visual effects to make the movie work. The effects support the characters. The film is a great character piece – with some huge action scenes.”

Singer began thinking about an origins story when was directing the first two X-Men pictures. "I would always think about the histories of the characters when telling the actors how to inform their characters' behavior. So to be able to go back and execute those backstories I had in my imagination was very satisfying.”

One of those actors who had asked Singer about a character history was Patrick Stewart, who portrayed Charles Xavier in the first three X-Men films. "Patrick was wondering about the origins of Charles, and even then I had an idea about it, which was very different from the comics' version,” Singer recalls. "I explained the comics' version of the origins, which was set in Tibet and involved an alien agent named Lucifer, and then I explained my ideas. Patrick said, ‘I prefer it your way!'”

Producer Lauren Shuler Donner, who has been with the X-Men film franchise since the beginning, also remembers the origins for X-MEN: FIRST CLASS dating back to the production of the original films. "During the making of X2 we were chatting between scenes about some of our younger cast members, and I said, ‘Wouldn't it be great to see a young Professor X or Magneto. We should do a film about the X-Men when they were young.' Everyone went, ‘Yeah, good idea, good idea.' And we all talked about it for quite a while, and then of course went back to making X2.”

Singer not only co-wrote the story for X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, he joined the project as a producer, along with Shuler Donner and Simon Kinberg, a skilled writer in his own right whose credits include Mr. and Mrs. Smith and the upcoming This Means War. But who would direct? Singer was unavailable due to his commitment to another project, but a chance meeting he had in London with Vaughn led to the latter agreeing to take the reins.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is not Vaughn's first encounter with the film franchise. After making his directorial debut with the acclaimed independent film Layer Cake, Vaughn came close to helming the third film in the X-Men series, X-Men: The Last Stand, before moving on to direct the critically hailed fantasy epic Stardust and the graphic novel adaptation Kick-Ass.

Vaughn says he took on X-MEN: FIRST CLASS because he sparked to Singer's idea of setting the story during the Cold War. "I was immediately struck by the cleverness of Bryan's idea, which was an interesting way of integrating the characters into recent history,” Vaughn remembers. Adds the director's writing partner Jane Goldman: "One of the things that excited us most about the project was the political backdrop – the idea of integrating that aspect with the X-Men backstory really captured our imaginations.” (Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz, a screenwriting duo who recently co-wrote Thor, receive screenplay credit, along with Vaughn & Goldman.)

While expanding upon the story's humanistic and political themes, Vaughn and Goldman brought yet another intriguing element of that era into the mix. "The film is X-Men meets the Cuban missile crisis meets James Bond,” Vaughn notes. "It has elements of the ‘60s Bond films starring Sean Connery – the coolness, the action, the danger. It's three genres all mixed together.”

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