If the early reviews are any indication, it looks like X-Men: First Class has a better than average chance of becoming a dark horse success story this summer.
Despite the fact that a large number of fans have been sharpening their claws and getting ready to make minced meat of this project since its earliest stages of development, there's been some speculation that the film might actually turn out to be the best entry in the X-Men franchise since the much-lauded X2: X-Men United.
The tide began to turn somewhat after the release of several trailers and clips, but there's still a surprisingly sizable level of skepticism when it comes to X-Men: First Class. The brunt of the criticism seems to center around the fact that the story takes significant liberties not only with comic book continuity, but also with the timeline established in previous installments. Seemingly straddling the line between being a prequel and all-out reboot, the film certainly has an ambiguous approach to the mythology - but that means there's no shortage of options for the filmmakers when it comes to deciding where to take the series next.
Director Matthew Vaughn and producer Bryan Singer previously hinted that further installments could be set against the backdrop of the 1970s or 80s, but didn't go into specifics about the plot. Speaking with HitFix, Vaughn reveals that he's definitely interested in helming a sequel to First Class - and that he already has an idea for the next film's opening scene:
"I've got some ideas for the opening for the next film. I thought it would be fun to open with the Kennedy Assassination, and we reveal that the magic bullet was controlled by Magneto. That would explain the physics of it, and we see that he's pissed off because Kennedy took all the credit for saving the world and mutants weren't even mentioned. And we could go from there, and I've got some fun ideas about what other mutants to bring in. I don't want to tempt fate, though. If the film's a hit, of course I'd be interested. I really enjoyed making it."
X-Men: First Class has taken some flack for not including more recognizable mutants as part of its ensemble, but Vaughn insists that they chose the characters who would best serve the story. In a separate interview with MovieWeb, he also indicates that if a follow-up were to move forward, he wouldn't be interested in shaking up the current roster all that much. In fact, he claims that a sequel would only feature one new addition to the team:
***WARNING - THE FOLLOWING COMMENT CONTAINS A SPOILER FOR THE FILM ***
"We will only have one more new character. I won't say who he...I won't say who he or she is! But we will only be bringing one more new character in. Because, I think, as Professor X is in a wheelchair, Magneto needs to have a nemesis he can fight with. Someone that will be his equal. I know who it is. It would be nice if I could say something, but I can't, mate!"
As fans begin to theorize which character Vaughn is referring to, Cyclops and Jean Grey will likely emerge as frontrunners - despite the fact that including either of them would contradict certain scenes from X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Then again, the ending of First Class that Vaughn references above already seems to contradict those same moments. As I stated before, it sounds like this film will give everyone involved a great deal of creative freedom when it comes to plotting out sequels - so I suspect that there really isn't any character who's off limits at this point.
X-Men: First Class may be re-imaging the cinematic origins of these beloved characters, but Vaughn says that fans shouldn't rule out the possibility of seeing Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellen return to their iconic roles somewhere down the line:
"I have worked with Sir Ian McKellen before, and he is a lovely guy. I would love to work with him again. So, never say never!"
A statement like that will probably only make it more complicated for anyone who's trying to make sense of how all these films tie together (it doesn't get any less confusing when you consider that X-Men 4 and 5 are evidently still in development as well), but the idea of segueing into the present day incarnations of Professor X and Magneto sounds like a promising one.
Reservations about how closely the film adheres to the source material are understandable, but it seems like there's a decent chance that even the most cynical audience members will ultimately be won over.
We'll find out when X-Men: First Class opens in theaters on June 3.