A few notes on X-Men: First Class, now barely two weeks old in theaters. The short review (to be expounded upon in a future Franchise Face-Off): I liked it. The story flows better than it has in the last couple of X movies, it's more character-based than special effects-based, and the performances (particularly from headliners James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) are respectful to past entries yet add their own wrinkles to the fray. Thinking back on it, though, the idea behind this fifth X-Men adventure confuses me: Is it a prequel? A reboot? Maybe a little of both? The characters are the same (albeit in younger, sprightlier form), the struggles are the same, and yet... the pieces don't match up with the other movies.
As sequels go, most franchises tend to keep at least some continuity in between movies – i.e., recurring characters who've learned valuable lessons from their past adventures, and plots that continue logically from Where We Last Left Off. Some examples: In the Die Hard movies, yes, it's a bit of a stretch that detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) would magically stumble onto a brand new terrorist plot each time out – but even he's exasperated by his own rotten luck, and he comments on that, much to the audience's delight. The Lethal Weapon sequels could be re-titled The Further Zany Adventures Of Detectives Riggs And Murtaugh, with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover squaring off against various criminal scum in Los Angeles (they're cops, so naturally they'd take on different cases). Even the James Bond series – with its ever-changing roster of stars – manages to reference the character's tortured history every now and then. 1981's For Your Eyes Only, for one, shows Roger Moore-as-007 visiting the grave of wife Teresa Bond - a character who died twelve years earlier in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, starring George Lazenby as Bond.
Starting in 2000, Fox's original X-Men films established a mythology that doesn't quite mesh with all of First Class. The new movie looks and feels like a prequel, detailing the relationship between Charles Xavier (aka Professor X) and Erik Lensherr (aka Magneto), two friends (and powerful mutants) who will eventually become bitter enemies. And for a good long while the movie actually feels like it will lead directly into the original trilogy as we know it today. But then, during the climax, our expectations are shortchanged.
Okay, so a prequel it's not. Let's call it a reboot instead. First Class, then, simply takes characters we're already familiar with and sends them on different paths – starts over, from scratch. But if that's the case, why are we treated to cameo appearances from previous X cast members, as if to remind us these characters are one and the same? Can it be considered a reboot if the story is different but the actors are the same? (On second thought, maybe it can: Back to James Bond for a bit, Dame Judi Dench appeared as 007's boss while Pierce Brosnan played the part, but now she plays the same character in the Daniel Craig films, which show Bond at the start of his career. Both Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace are considered reboots, so they also must exist in some kind of time-warped alternate universe.)
So what is X-Men: First Class? Just another empty cash grab at the box office, made in complete and total ignorance of everything that's come before it? No, it's too good for that. Is it the world's first prequel/reboot hybrid? (A pre-boot? Re-quel?) Or, like an offshoot of so many different comic book titles that exist out there today, is it just another take on an enduringly popular franchise? What say you, X fans?