June 8, 2011

“To those who said X-Men First Class was good, I want to stab you in the face.”

My friend Jason posted this to Facebook yesterday. Hyperbole aside, I understand his frustration.

Fox was in spin mode this past weekend trying to explain a lower-than-expected opening for the fifth film in the “X-Men” franchise ($55.1 M—the lowest since the first film debuted in 2000 at $54 M … $79 M today if adjusted for inflation). The studio blamed the lack of bankable stars, the lack of a big-name director and the film’s 1960s setting.

But is there another problem? For Jason and other longtime fans of the best-selling comics, a heavily revised origin story for a franchise that’s older than “Star Trek” is a slap in the face from Hollywood.

“I thought they were gonna make changes…I didn’t realize they were rewriting everything…and I mean everything,” Jason writes.

Based on the feedback Jason’s getting from his friends, it seems most are content to wait until the film hits the rental market or television. One responder writes that she’s ignoring “First Class,” looking on it as a “money-making ‘place card’ ” until the next “X” film, “The Wolverine,” which is being adapted from the phenomenally popular Chris Claremont and Frank Miller miniseries.

For me, I became a “First Class” fence-sitter once I saw that the featured mutant characters weren’t based on the original 1963 lineup created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby.

Instead of Scott Summers as the Professor X’s first student, we get the villain Mystique. (((((facepalm)))))

There’s no Jean Grey (Marvel Girl/Phoenix/etc.), Bobby Drake (Iceman) or Warren Worthington III (Angel). Hank McCoy (Beast) is the only original X-Man in the film, but even Silver Age X-Men side characters Alex Summers (Havok) and Sean Cassidy (Banshee) get more prominent roles than good ol’ Beast.

To better understand why the lineup change for a film called “First Class” would be frustrating to a longtime X-Men fan: imagine a “Harry Potter” film without Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Instead, the filmmaker taps Neville Longbottom and Draco Malfoy to be Harry’s best friends. It would be, in a word, wrong.

“First Class” conflates storylines, timelines and characters, including turning Sebastian Shaw, leader of the Hellfire Club, into a Nazi who becomes a target of Magneto’s post-Holocaust rage a la “Inglourious Basterds.” (My colleague Naomi Pfefferman declared “First Class” the “most Jewish superhero movie ever” on her blog, The Ticket. But it could have been even Jewier had the filmmakers stayed true to the comic and shown Professor X and Magneto meeting for the first time in in 1950s Israel, where they started debating whether mutants could co-exist with normal humans.)

Die-hard fans who want to enjoy the film without being bothered by its inaccuracies can easily look on “First Class” as a story set on an alternative Earth in the Marvel multiverse. But others, like those who responded to Jason’s post, aren’t taking the bait. The summer is stocked with plenty of geek fare: “Green Lantern,” “Captain America,” “Cowboys & Aliens,” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Conan.”

Some fans might be thinking: Why settle?

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