The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Movies

June 2, 2011

Heather Bremer: Vaughn's 'First Class' may pull Fox out of the fire

— Fox is a four-letter word in many fanboy households.

Fox, the fount of infinite intelligence that aired the episodes of the first season of “Firefly” out of order to build a fanbase. Fox, the picture of perfection that relegated “Dollhouse” and “Fringe” to the Friday night “death slot” to boost ratings. Fox, the bastion of super awesomeness that knew exactly how to give fans of the X-Men what they wanted on the big screen.

Sarcasm aside, for the first two films in the X-Men franchise, the studio did manage to create two pretty good movies. Or at least allowed director Bryan Singer to.

But that train went off the tracks with the franchise’s third film. In “X-Men: The Last Stand,” directed by Brett Ratner, Fox completely bastardized the Dark Phoenix storyline to created a mutant-muddled mess.

And if “Last Stand” derailed the X-Men train, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” sent it plunging off the side of a bridge into the ice waters below. Just ask any fan of Deadpool.

While moviegoers still scrambled to see both films (“Last Stand” made $459 million worldwide, “Wolverine” $373 million), most were left hoping Marvel could retrieve the rights to the X-Men and bury Fox in a deep, dark hole.

But if early opinions of “X-Men: First Class” are to be believed, director Matthew Vaughn may have saved Fox from the suffocating darkness of fan alienation.

“First Class” debuts today to rave reviews from Internet gurus and a 92 percent Certified Fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.com. Some critics have even gone so far as to call it the second-best comic book film ever, paling only to Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.”

Those familiar with Vaughn’s work aren’t surprised.

The director, originally tapped to helm “Last Stand,” doesn’t have very many films on his resume — four including his foray in the X-Men franchise. But those that are there — “Layer Cake,” “Stardust” and “Kick-Ass” — made many optimistic he could get the X-Men flying right.

The overall quality of everything Vaughn has brought to the screen is far better than what should be expected of anyone with so few films under their belt. In fact, it’s better than most veteran directors.

And these films, each so different from the last as to show Vaughn’s range, gave us a hint of what Vaughn might bring to “First Class.”

“Layer Cake,” a 2004 heist film starring Daniel Craig and Sienna Miller, demonstrated his talent for action sequences. “Stardust,” perhaps the closest in genre to “First Class,” showed his adeptness with fantasy and storytelling, as well as managing a large cast of personalities.

But it is “Kick-Ass” that perhaps gives fans the most reason to believe. Wanting to stay unwaveringly faithful to the source material, Vaughn made the film, based on a Mark Millar graphic novel, on his own. Then he took it to the fans to build support until it was finally snapped up for release by Lionsgate.

Such dedication to getting things right made Vaughn the perfect choice to stand firm against Fox and its wanton disregard for quality of story, character and production.

Perhaps this shows growth on Fox’s part. Or maybe they didn’t know what they were getting themselves into.

Either way, “First Class” could be at the top of the class of the X-Men franchise before the summer’s through.

“X-Men: First Class” is rated PG-13 and has a run time of 132 minutes. Enjoy the show.

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