Despite the questionable marketing tactics Twentieth Century Fox employs for X-Men: First Class, there still is good reason to look forward to the film, namely the talent involved behind and in front of the cameras. While the posters and images may look weak, the trailers for the most part, have been very good.
Bryan Singer, who was originally set to direct X-Men: First Class, makes his return to the franchise in a producer role and it’s his story that director Matthew Vaughn brings to life. Now, he’s doing press for the film, aiming to make it stand out in a summer season crowded with superhero movies.
“Oh something I came up with just based on… When I made the first two X-Men films I was conscious of figuring out how to play the relationship between Magneto and Xavier and I was always very conscious of what their past must have been. What their friendship was like. So that back-story was always playing in my head whenever I was discussing scenes with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. So this was a chance to finally go back and explore the history that was always bouncing around in my mind when I was making those other movies.”
Due to the ages of Patrick Stewart’s Professor X and Ian McKellen’s Magneto in the first X-Men movie, Singer worked backwards from there to pick the early 1960s setting of X-Men: First Class, where young Charles and young Erik would be in their twenties. Taking it another step further, Singer looked at the major events of the era, from the Civil Rights movement to the growing angst with the Soviet Union. This is how the Cuban Missile Crisis became a part of the film’s plot and it all happened to work well with the inclusion of the Hellfire Club from the comics.
“The Hellfire Club is actually something that [producers] Lauren Shuler Donner and Simon Kinberg had mentioned to me early on. It’s something that we had discussed years ago, to incorporate them into an X-Men film, but we never quite found a way to do so. So Lauren brought it up again and I thought great, because it again plays into the idea of them being underground. Because the whole idea of the Hellfire Club is that they are an underground club, and that’s perfect because we’re dealing with a time when the world doesn’t know that mutants exist. What better villain element than one that exists under the surface of society? And to have the mutants intertwine with the geopolitical events of the time.”
Emma Frost was a character they wanted to include in X-Men 3 back when Singer was still attached, likely as a new love interest for Cyclops as he battled letting go of Jean during the Phoenix situation, a story that never came to be when Brett Ratner took over at the last minute after Vaughn also quit the project.
The Hellfire Club allows the franchise to finally introduce (re-introduce) Emma Frost and explore her origins. But how did Singer go about picking the other mutants to fill out the cast, knowing that many of them are introduced later in the timeline? Singer explains that one would first “freak out because you assume that the good ones have already been picked” but he dove back into the comics and found characters that worked within the story.
“I felt like I was back in the late ’90s again, going through all the character histories and biographies and the comic books and graphic novels, and trying not to violate the tableaux but at the same time trying to have mutants that service different aspects of your story. Where their powers move the story forward as opposed to just being there to be cool.”
Obviously, there are continuity issues from film to film, with Emma Frost showing up in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, only to be re-introduced as an older character decades earlier. For the most part though, the prequel does work within the chronology thus far and this is why outside of Xavier (James McAvoy) and Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), only Beast and Mystique are brought back.