Monday, June 6, 2011

X-Men: The Next Class

We do try not to be in the business of spoilers on this blog and though I fail at times—frequently—I also do my best to keep my Marvel shilling to a minimum, so I will restrict my official “review” of X-Men: First Class to merely saying it is tremendous fun, the performances are on the whole superb, and that if you are a comic book fan or just a fan of enjoyable movies, I can’t imagine you won’t feel satisfied walking out of the theaters after having viewed it.

First Class has already experienced well-deserved success, so I have to imagine—and hope—it will garner a sequel set in the same groovy retro timeline. I can’t predict what the storyline will be—and again will not spoil the movie outside of the stuff that’s basic knowledge if you’re familiar with the canon via either the comics or previous films—but certainly as has become practice for the franchise, I’m sure we’ll meet yet more new mutants, which suits me fine.

Indeed, while there’s no question that James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender’s Erik Lensherr are the glue that holds First Class together with their immense charisma and chemistry, the fuel that sets the rocket off is the ensemble, and for a fan, it’s pretty cool to see cult favorites like Havok and Banshee or even the most obscure of the obscure such as Angel—no, the female one—and Azazel actually make it to the big screen. With many of the front and center “cool” X-Men set aside for the stuff that comes later chronologically, Matthew Vaughn and company had to dig a bit here to build their cast, and they managed to find gold.

With that in mind, even after five movies—counting Wolverine—and over a decade crammed with a main cast in the double digits and cameos by the dozen, the beauty of the expansive X-Men universe is that there are still both major and bit players alike just waiting to take their curtain call. Here are some picks for who I’d like to see make the leap off the comic page.

My number one X-Man, Iceman, already made the original trilogy, so I’ve got to stump for my next favorite to get involved now (side note: They’ve been paired as a team both at the end of the Scott Lobdell era and in Mike Carey’s X-Men run, both of which I presume were written specifically for me). Sam Guthrie would be a particularly interesting character in the First Class era as he’s a good ol’ boy from the South during a time when integration was still something of a dirty word there, so seeing how he’d react to being part of a minority would be a pretty heady character arc. In the end, I’d personally want to see nice guy Cannonball emerge, but the path to getting him there—if he even does—would make for potentially powerful storytelling. Obviously a neat visual power too.

Moving forward, the X-Men movies are going to be more than ever about Xavier and Magneto’s tug of war over the future of mutantkind, and no character embodies that struggle more than Lorna Dane. I’m not sure if the Magneto’s daughter angle would necessarily translate well to the big screen, but regardless, you’ve got a player potentially as powerful as any on the board who will automatically empathize with the “bad guys,” putting the onus on Professor X to win her over and a chance to really state his case. It’s a good, meaty role for any number of talented young actresses; she could essentially be the Jean Grey of this series in terms of the tragic heroine. And of course you’ve already got Havok…

I don’t say it much—or even remember it much myself, given how rarely he appears—but Sunfire is for my money one of the most underrated X-Men, in large part due to how incredibly unsuited he is to be on any team (hence why was only an X-Man for an issue). As much as a “bad boy” as Wolverine, Gambit, etc. might be, they can never touch Shiro, who tops even Quicksilver as far as anti-social behavior. He’s arrogant, he’s ill-tempered and he’s also all about duty and honor, all of which makes him a great character, and one who shines even more when played against Xavier and his go-lucky, peace-seeking brood, given how little patience he has for any of it. He’s got another power that would be visually dynamic, as well as a presence that would both spark the interpersonal dynamic and undoubtedly make for some choice one-liners.

The physical powerhouses in the X-Men franchise have always tended to be men, so a change of pace to Johanna Cargill would mix things up a bit. I would never have thought of this suggestion even a year ago, but Mike Carey—him again—has done superb work nurturing the potential he saw with her in X-Men: Legacy and giving her a personality to go with all that anger. Even at her kindest and gentlest, Frenzy is an extremely volatile element to introduce, and would certainly add more than just silent muscle on either side. Again, as with Cannonball, there’s a social element at play here as well, as we’d get to see how somebody who’s not just black and not just a woman but now also a mutant fares in the time period of First Class.

Besides being just a neat character, Anole both throws in another representation of the newer generation—he was only introduced in 2003—and brings a unique visual to the table as well. We’ve seen blue girls and red guys at this point, but never a green kid and no real reptilian folks. Anole would present both some new opportunities for the makeup and special effects wizards—he’s got as Toad’s prehensile tongue as well as scales and the ability to camouflage—plus a layered role as the sensitive kid who gets drafted into a war. Also, I know I keep hammering on the “Societal tolerance was different in the 60’s” card, but having a homosexual character—not just a metaphor—is ground the X-Men movie franchise has yet to tread upon.

You’re going to need some sort of third party villain who makes the plot more complex than just Xavier versus Magneto, but not one who overwhelms them since they’re the show, and a schemer like Sinister fits the bill, not to mention he’s one of the more iconic villains who hasn’t yet made the leap to the films (you can’t really do Apocalypse justice in a period piece, I don’t think, and they’ve got to save Stryfe until I make my X-Cutioner’s Song trilogy). Just as Sebastian Shaw provided Kevin Bacon with the opportunity to turn in a great performance by tapping into his inner megalomaniac, there’s a veteran actor out there just waiting to rejuvenate his career as Sinister.


Crazypants Boleyn said...

I'd really like to see Northstar in a movie, not just because he's gay but because he's anti-social, and speedsters are fun too.

Ben Morse said...

Northstar would combine elements of Sunfire and Anole, plus I love speedsters and you could even lay ground for Alpha Flight/Department H/Wolverine stuff--well-played!

Vanquis Credit Card said...

I was surprised at how good First Class was; I wouldn't say it was great, and there were all sorts of extraordinary character development and inconsistency problems, but it was crafted nicely. Not great, but certainly enjoyable overall.

Samantha said...

I totally match with everything you've written.