Alternate cover: X-Men: First Class

James considers the newly-announced X-Men: First Class movie, and wonders why Fox is unwilling to do a full-on X-Men 4...

The recent announcement that an X-Men: First Class script is being written by Josh Schwartz, of Gossip Girl fame, is bound to raise a few eyebrows for fans of the X-Men everywhere. The idea of a film focussing on the younger X-Men characters has been mooted as far back as X-Men 2, which established the movie versions of characters like Pyro and Iceman in ways that left them crying out for more development – development that X-Men 3, despite its flaws, then delivered. The setup, it seemed, was perfect.

Initial thinking suggested that it was only a matter of time until a new X-Men sequel simply left behind the more expensive (and, after three movies, expired) contracts of Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Hugh Jackman et al, and instead starred the “next generation” of mutant actors that had already been introduced. A film starring Shawn Ashmore (Iceman), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde) and perhaps Anna Paquin (Rogue) would contain more than enough talent and just enough star power to carry a movie without the need to feature the original movie’s A-list – certainly in no more terms than a cameo here or there.

However, the title of the “junior X-Men” script suggests something slightly different. Rather than going with the franchise tradition and using the title “New Mutants” – or even stealing the name of the current ongoing series, Young X-Men – the announcement was for a script entitled X-Men: First Class. Together with likely director Zak Penn’s comments that his team has come up with “a young X-Men movie which is not what you’d expect”, this begins to suggest an altogether different take on the idea of teenage mutant superheroes.

The comic itself might be shuffling towards cancellation, but clearly, someone’s taken notice of it. Rather than featuring the next generation of mutants, the X-Men: First Class comic is set in the past, and instead tells stories about the original X-Men team at a time when they were still in training at Xavier’s School. While movie continuity does differ from the comics, there’s no reason to believe a First Class movie wouldn’t use a similar take, substituting the original X-Men team of the comics – Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast and Iceman – for Xavier’s movie students – the teachers from X-Men movie franchise.

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Such a move could see a team consisting of characters like Cyclops, Jean, Storm and Beast, each of them recast with a younger actor to show their adventures in training. Whether this would be any more popular than bringing back the more familiar X-kids is debatable, but it certainly has its own advantages – it’d probably be cheaper, for one, and it’d establish each of these characters with a new face. There’s no reason that the “young Storm” actress couldn’t eventually replace the far more expensive Halle Berry the next time an X-Men sequel rolls around.

At the heart of this, though, lies the apparent unwillingness of Fox to do a true X-Men sequel. With a Wolverine prequel set for release, a Magneto prequel still in development, and the potential for First Class to be a prequel, one has to wonder when – or if – we’ll ever see a true “X-Men 4”. The veritable bloodbath of literal character assassinations in X-Men: The Last Stand suggests that Fox wanted to go out with a bang and place themselves in a strong negotiating position. After all, series mainstays James Marsden, Famke Jannsen, Rebecca Romijn, Patrick Stewart and Anna Paquin have all been effectively written out, which would seem to leave them in little position to demand better deals for a potential return. Despite this, Fox seems unsure of how to handle the X-Men franchise at the moment, and X-Men: First Class seems to be yet another example of the studio trying out something else, rather than returning to the weakened “main” movie continuity for a proper fourth film.

One thing is certain, however – with multiple spin-offs and a confusing use of continuity, it seems that the X-Men franchise has been brought to comics even more faithfully than fans initially imagined!

James writes Alternate Cover every Monday at Den Of Geek. His previous column can be found here.