How much of a commercial and creative failure was X-Men: The Last Stand when it came out in 2006? Bryan Singer and Fox went back to the drawing board and essentially rebooted the entire franchise with First Class and changed the series vantage point. The original franchise, which helped establish the modern comic book/superhero genre, had such a colossal misfire in the hands of Brett Ratner that a drastic change was needed.
The original trilogy was ground breaking in many ways, laying the groundwork for how Marvel Studios would design what would become their Marvel Cinematic Universe. But after Last Stand the franchise was floundering with a fanbase in open revolt. A reboot was necessary and what Singer did with the franchise was substantial.
Thus came X-Men: First Class which shifted the sand underneath the feet of the franchise. Instead of being a superhero film in the vein of a traditional action franchise ala The Dirty Dozen, with lots of characters in various levels of substance, the series would instead focus on the development of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Eric Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) over the years. The focus of the franchise is to see them develop over the years as we see the events that shifted them from friends to mortal enemies.
At its heart the new X-Men franchise would be about this friendship over the years, and how life gave (and changed) the vantage points of the two most prominent members of the universe of X.
It’s a bold take as it would’ve been easier to make another X-Men film in the vein of the first three, as they did make money (though it was a case of diminishing returns by the time the Rush Hour auteur took the wheel), but instead Singer and Matthew Vaughn would bring out something new to the franchise. First Class is essentially an origin story and as we progress through the franchise, through 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, we’re seeing superhero events through the framing device of the friendship between these two.
First Class starts it off as we meet the two as younger men. Xavier is an idealist looking to mold a world where mutant and humankind alike can live in harmony. Lehnsherr is a Holocaust survivor with a chip on his shoulder, looking for revenge against the Nazis who escaped justice. It gives them a different perspective that they bring to their friendship; Charles sees the best in humanity and Eric has experienced the worst.
It’s essentially an origin story and a quasi-reboot of the universe, as the original trilogy of films (and actors) haven’t been written out but aren’t major portions of this franchise. They’d all make appearances in Days of Future Past, the sequel, but this is McAvoy and Fassbender’s franchise. We’re seeing the X-Men through the years as they become the heroes they are intended to, et al.
When we find them in Apocalypse they’re both building their lives again. Eric is in hiding in Poland, a family man and iron worker trying to hide. He’s globally infamous for trying to kill Richard Nixon a decade prior but somehow has managed to keep that hidden. Charles is in the midst building his School for Gifted Youngsters, recruiting the first wave of children with superpowers. When the world’s first mutant (Oscar Isaac) resurfaces and threatens to bring down the world with him, to create a new one, it’s up to Charles and his newly minted X-Men to save the day.
It’s an interesting take on the franchise and one that’s proven to be commercially successful but it’s also creatively so. Singer and his team have managed to take long established subject matters and bring a new life to them by narrowing the focus on this friendship lens; McAvoy and Fassbender have terrific chemistry with one another that brings new life to the franchise. We can see why they become the sort of men Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen wind up becoming as their future selves.
With Days of Future Past already out on 4k this gives one the ability to own the reminted franchise on that format with the release of both of these titles.
Both Apocalypse and First Class are loaded with the same extras from the original Blu-Ray release of First Class and new, substantial ones for Apocalypse. Throw in the 4K release, which is spectacular, and there’s enough to keep you satisfied for hours.
20th Century Fox presents X-Men: First Class. Directed by: Matthew Vaughn. Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt. Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stenz and Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn. Running time: 132 minutes. Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language. Released on 10.4.201
20th Century Fox presents X-Men: Apocalypse. Directed by: Bryan Singer. Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult. Written Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris. Running time: 144 minutes. Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language. Released on 10.4.16
Tags: Bryan Singer, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, X-Men First Class, X-Men: Apocalypse