News for the Day

Ain’t it Cool reports that Aaron Johnson will play young Cyclops in X-Men: First Class, to be directed by his Kick-Ass boss Matthew Vaughn. It’s not official, but Ain’t It Cool are more careful with their casting scoops these days – when they do make them, they tend to be very reliable.

Johnson joins James McAvoy as Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, and Alice Eve as Emma Frost, with the remainder of the cast to be announced.

Yes, this appears to be either a prequel or a reboot, neither of which has had much creative success in Hollywood lately given that they largely serve as a means to cast new, cheaper actors or wring some more money from a brand the studio has the licence to by hoping to convince the audience that the original films never happened.

But then they just go and confuse me by hiring good people. First Andrew Garfield – a thespian, not a star or even a pin-up – as the new Spider-Man, and now Vaughn directing First Class (yes, I know that’s the wrong way round but it serves my purposes, dammit). Vaughn values his creative freedom so highly that he went outside the studio system to make Kick-Ass in an uncompromised fashion, raising funds to make a $30 million British independent superhero film – the man has steel, that’s for sure. Plus, he left X-Men 3 under mysterious circumstances, possibly due to the pressure of having to deliver the film on Fox’s insanely rushed schedule to meet a release date. The task eventually fell to Brett Ratner, who produced a tragically mediocre conclusion to what should have been a strong trilogy. If Vaughn dodged Fox’s bullet once, it’s interesting that he’s risking stepping in front of it again.

There’s speculation that Fox have learned from Avatar and are valuing a director’s vision, and may even be heeding the geek bile hurled their way for years due to their consistent mishandling of slam-dunk properties (botching the X-Men films post-Singer, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and more). Thus they hire Vaughn, who earned much geek goodwill for his brutal, brilliant Kick-Ass, and promised him more creative latitude than previous directors in his position have enjoyed (eg: Gavin Hood on Wolverine). He’s been able to hire Stardust and Kick-Ass collaborator Jane Goldman to rewrite the existing script – the First Class project has been kicking around at Fox for a couple of years now, initiated by The OC‘s Josh Schwartz – which is rare on a mere work-for-hire assignment.

Granted, the film is coming out in June 2011 and has yet to start filming and Vaughn was only hired in May, and granted, Vaughn may be smarting from the underwhelming box-office take of Kick-Ass and may be willing to make one-for-them to restore his commercial viability. But Kick-Ass was made rapidly, so Vaughn may be able to produce First Class on a similar schedule (Kick-Ass showed no signs of being rushed).

Plus, he’s hiring some great talent. Michael Fassbender is so perfect as a young Magneto that it beggars belief, and James McAvoy has great presence and no doubt has his pick of many projects. The two of them facing off truly is the 30-ish equivalent of Stewart and McKellen. Johnson too is very capable and versatile, judging by his contrasting turns in Nowhere Boy as a young John Lennon and Kick-Ass.

I’d love to believe that Fox have learned their lesson with the woeful response to X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine (commercially, the films slid very rapidly too), and these are certainly steps in the right direction. But whether this is a prequel or a reboot will determine the content of First Class and how ambitious it can be. At least it has the strong hook of showing how Xavier and Magneto turned from friends into enemies, so there is some new territory to explore. We’ll have to wait and see whether Vaughn can transform the X-Men well from a tepid pool into a spring. Between this, Captain America, Thor, and Green Lantern, 2011 promises to be a hell of a year for superhero cinema.

Avatar will be re-released in cinemas in August in 3D and Imax 3D. That’d be fine, but they call it a Special Edition and promise that we’ll “see it like never before”. Yet it has a measly 8 minutes of new footage. In a 2-hour-40-minute movie, that’s not much. They claim the re-release will enable those who missed out on the 3D experience to see it properly, but this feels like a bit of a cash-grab. Ah well, people can go see it again if they want to. I’ll just wait for the proper multi-disc Blu-Ray, likely with more deleted footage as well. I’m fairly lukewarm on the film now, but the visuals and the technology are so impressive that I’m looking forward to learning about how the film was made, especially if the rumour that superb DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika (Blade Runner, Twin Peaks Gold Box, and many more) is creating the documentary.

Marvel is releasing pin-up art from its Marvelman Classic Primer one-shot, coming later this month. It’s strange that this introductory publication, announced months ago, is nearly out but with no word yet on what on earth Marvel are actually doing with the character. Clearly resolving the complicated rights issues to reprint the landmark, astounding Moore/Gaiman issues is taking a long time. Announcing it at Comicon, also later this month, makes a ton of sense, one year after they announced they had acquired the character, but Rich Johnston recently reported that this may not be possible – argh! We’ve waited so long for Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman’s run to finally be reprinted and for Gaiman to finally finish his story, 20 years on, that any more delays may just make me cry.

To those who have no idea what I’m raving about, that’s actually kind of the point – not enough people know about this seminal and influential work. Alan Moore’s reinvention of a fairly forgettable 50s British superhero was revolutionary in its treatment of the superhero genre as ethically ambiguous, featuring some content that even today is truly confronting. After a stunning climax, Moore handed the keys to Neil Gaiman, but the publisher folded before he was halfway through his run. Then rights issues relating to the character and the work itself dragged Marvelman – or Miracleman as he had to be known then – down for years. Then last year, Marvel pieced together a solution and bought the rights to the character, but not the whole package (note that in the above image, Marvelman at the right has no chest logo, clearly indicating that the rights situation has yet to be resolved – long story).

That is the ludicrously short version. For a quite fascinating yarn of lost stories and characters, Wiki it. Skip to the ownership bit though – don’t ruin the story for yourselves. Besides, the cover to issue 15 that you’ll see amidst the plot summary will tell you all you need to know about how far Moore takes the superhero…

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