by Lex Walker, published on Wednesday, January 19, 2011|
I'm a pessimistic guy, I know it. But I was really holding on to optimism for X-Men: First Class. Until today. And I give Jennifer Lawrence credit for a portion of that.
The first news of the newest non-Wolverine-centric X-Men film being an adaptation of the "First Class" series brought mixed feelings. On the plus side, they'd be slimming down the cast from the bloated teenage ensemble that had the likes of Ellen Page to (theoretically) feature the classic X-Men like Angel, Beast, Jean Grey, and a few others. Heck, I was even content when I heard that James McAvoy had landed the part of Xavier as he's a young actor who's delivered time and time again in the past (even if the film is miserable like Wanted). With Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn at the helm, the film started to sound like maybe, just maybe Fox would do right by X-Men fans and not give us another half-assed entry like X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
But not all the casting choices were rays of sunshine. A few odd choices began to pop up: Nicholas Hoult (a fine actor) seemingly miscast as Beast; the very presence of Azrael; and new factors that seemed to crop up daily. As if to counterbalance the feeling of unease these news items brought we also got the peculiar but promising news of Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw and the genuinely talented Michael Fassbender as Magneto. And hell, the brilliantly beautiful January Jones, whose proven herself time and again through 5 seasons of Mad Men, is starring as the scantily clad Emma Frost aka the White Witch. Fanboys rejoice in the eye candy. But then again, they rejoiced when Halle Berry was cast as Storm, and I think she might have delivered some of the worst performances in all of the X-Men films by attempting to dumb down the unexpectedly good dialogue (at least in the first two).
Up until yesterday it seemed fair to give the film the benefit of the doubt. And then this cast picture debuted on MSN...
Except the photo wasn't even this high resolution at first, but that was probably in the studio's favor. The horrible staging, lighting and even the sub-par costumes instantly gave fans a foul taste in their mouth. Maybe Fox rushed the picture out not wanting to be outdone by the recently released photo of Andrew Garfield as the new Spider-man.
Now, maybe it was the tepid to warm receipt of this photo that made Fox think the time was perfect to stoke the fires of superhero film mania. If that's the case, the grossly misunderstood fan sentiments. If any group of moviegoers out there is innately pessimistic about developments in the films they're excited about, it's comic book fans. They've watched time and time again as studios screw with their favorite superhero's blockbuster only to have the end product come out something close to a steaming pile of crap (X-Men 3, Spider-man 3, Ghost Rider, Daredevil (theatrical cut), Fantastic Four, Batman & Robin, Superman Returns, Punisher: War Zone, Wolverine, etc.). Sure, fans were somewhat excited to see this picture of Garfield as Spidey, but it doesn't mean they're blindly optimistic. You trot out cast photos likes these...
..and you'll be lucky if you can claim a pre-release leak of the film as the cause of awful box office returns.
These aesthetic hang-ups, along with the fact that every X-Men fan out there knows that there's no hope for this film to have any sort of continuity with the original three films (i.e. Beast is already blue and furry here (but he wasn't as of X2 - though even X-Men 3 messed up there; the presence of Angel conflicts with X-Men 3; oh, and Xavier has hair...but I suppose that's the least of the problems).
All of this though is secondary in the light of something I read today while browsing the various interviews with cast members that are popping up left and right. Bad costumes will make the film goofy looking, but actors and actresses with no idea what kind of movie they're starring in is even worse. I submit to you a clip from an interview with Jennifer Lawrence, pictured above and who will play the young Mystique, featured in Yahoo's Movie Blog "Movie Talk" by Matt McDaniel.
Lawrence said that she hadn't seen the first three "X-Men" movies when she first auditioned for the role, and her unfamiliarity with the role of Mystique nearly cost her the part. She told me she auditioned a few times before finally sitting down to watch the original trilogy. Once she did, she said, "I realized I was doing it completely wrong, and I was like, 'Why have they been calling me back?'" Seeing the first three films, she saw that Rebecca Romijn played the role "kind of cold and cool and snakelike... I was doing my Raven kind of sweet and teenybopper, because I didn't know what else to do."
Okay, now let's put a few things together. Jennifer Lawrence was born in 1990, so when X-Men came out in 2000, she wasn't even 10 yet. So I guess, its forgivable she hadn't caught that one in the theaters. When X2 came out in 2003 she was almost 13 - okay, still reasonable that maybe she didn't go to a cineplex for that one. Maybe she wasn't a fan of superhero movies. That's fine. And maybe in the case of X-Men 3 she heard it was so bad and just skipped it. Fine. To hear that she hadn't sought the movies out and watched them before she auditioned for the parts though? That's just maddening. Let's just read that again:
Seeing the first three films, she saw that Rebecca Romijn played the role "kind of cold and cool and snakelike... I was doing my Raven kind of sweet and teenybopper, because I didn't know what else to do."
When the amount of research required, at the bare minimum, to prepare for an interview involves watching 3 superhero movies and you can't even be bothered to do that, it's hard to have high hopes for their performance. It's the easiest homework ever. She went teenybopper with her interpretation. That's not even a lack of knowledge of the character, that's a total disregard for the general tone of the X-Men as a whole. And yet....she was called back for multiple auditions before realizing how the character was supposed to act. She made it through multiple rounds of auditions by delivering a "teenybopper" version of Mystique. That's not the sort of thing that inspires confidence in the people making decisions on this film.
Fox's disregard for keeping any sort of integrity intact for the X-Men film saga was pretty clear after X-Men 3 and Wolverine, but if they're honestly expecting to just jump back to X4 (Lauren Schuler Donner has mentioned) when this film is done (who really believes they'll let this new series just drop if it's even mildly successful?), who are they kidding? The tenacity of Fox's hold on its Marvel properties became a death grip once Disney made the comic book giant their own, and they'll be damned if they let even one slip out of their grasp.
At this point, X-Men fans seem better off diverting their attentions elsewhere and perhaps taking comfort in what look to be serviceable adaptations of Thor and Captain America. Will they be box office dynamos? Maybe not, but fans are fickle and the right good press in the weeks before release might be enough to push the huddled masses out of their zones of tepid response and into the cold, dark theaters. It's a crap shoot with comic book movies. As always, fans can't seem to agree on things, like whether or not Chris Evans's Captain uniform looks era-appropriate or just miserable...
...or if Anthony Hopkins will prove to be the undoing of Kenneth Branagh's take on the Norse superhero. Nevermind whether all these films will be able to coalesce into the mega-event of an Avengers movie.
All these news items and picture releases are the curse of the winter season, when fans turn away from the typically shoddy theatrical offerings to the internet to learn about the latest rumor about casting in the summer blockbusters, the films they're chomping at the bit for.
When you measure the way Fox handled the first ever exposure of their upcoming X-Men film against how stories for Captain America, Thor, and The Dark Knight Rises have been breaking, you can't help but notice how poor of a job Fox did. Not only did they release a crappy looking photoshopped image that incites fan hatred instead of excitement, but they did it in the same news cycle as comparatively interesting and fan-satisfying tidbits as a new Spidey pic and today's announcement of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and Tom Hardy* as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Hell, even when Marvel confirmed Mark Ruffalo as Edward Norton's replacement as the Hulk there was some fan disappointment, but it was padded cleverly by the critical acclaim surrounding his work in The Kids are Alright. If you're going to drop a gamma bomb in your fans' laps, try to soften the blow. Somehow.
There's a right way to generate fan hype for your superhero film, and there's a wrong way. And there's no doubt in my mind that Fox did just about everything wrong in not leading with better photos and not prepping their stars with better talking points for interviews. As is, X-Men: First Class is on the right track if it wants to follow in Wolverine's footsteps.
(Editors Note: It is indeed Tom Hardy and not Tom Brady ~ Thanks to readers for the correction)