You could probably here the fans' 'squee' around the globe when it was revealed that Bryan Singer would be returning to the characters that he helmed in two chapters of the original Fox live-action franchise.
The first X-Men film (2000) from Twentieth Century Fox was a big hit and its first sequel 'X2' (2003) was arguably even bigger. Both drew on certain popular storylines and outcast characters Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, Professor X, Magneto and Rogue who had consistently proven to be Marvel's most popular characters - especially the likes of Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman). Singer left to helm Superman Returns and Brett Ratner took the helm for X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). This was regarded as the weakest chapter of the trilogy, with far too many characters and major storylines crammed into a movie that lasted just over an hour and a half. It might not have been the year's worst film, but despite decent box-office it was heavily criticised by fans and critics alike and there weren't any more X-team movies on the immediate horizon.
Instead we got X-Men: Origins - Wolverine, which sought to capitalise on Jackman's key role in the trilogy. Gavin Hood (director on TV's Breakout Kings and the forthcoming Ender's Game - as well as an actor who had appeared in the likes of American Kickboxer, Kickboxer 5 and the Stargate SG-1 series) helmed the project but it suffered, once again, from throwing too may characters and set-pieces into the mix at the expense of actual character and story. Largely set before the existing X-Men movies, there were also contradictions to the existing established continuity and characters. Fas fretted that with this and The Last Stand, a franchise had been dealt a death-blow.
The concept of the X-Men was revisted in X-Men: First Class (2011) which sought to examine the early days of Charles Xavier and Magneto - now played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectively. There there were once again blatant continuity contradictions, the tone of the story - deftly mixing characters, historical events and a evocation of the 1960s period (in which the original X-Men comic debuted) worked much better. Matthew Vaughn had already directed Kick-Ass and was once again teamed with script-writer Jane Goldman - and the two knew the territory and tone well. The film was a critical and commercial hit at a time when superheroes were getting scrutinised by the big studios. Another sequel (prequel?) seemed likely, but no-one was rushing to get it out. In 2012, Vaughn pulled out of directing the follow-up and fans were once again nervous that a less-experienced, more commercially-driven director would take the franchise off the rails once more.
They couldn't be more wrong. The news that Bryan Singer would return, not just as a producer but as the man in the director's chair might possibly seem the best news fans could hope for. But what we've been hearing since, that news DOES get better.
The upcoming film will essay one of the comic title's all-time greatest stories 'Days of Future Past'. In the original story, an older Kitty Pryde from the future swaps minds with her contemporary self in an effort to help 'our' X-Men avoid 'her' dystopian future in which mutants are hunted own and killed or held in concentation camps by fearful humans and the robotic Sentinels who took control. With echoes of 'The Terminator' but with themes suited more to the idea of the danger of intolerance, the story still resonates today.
We already know that the story has inspired the next film, though it seems likely that tweaks will have to be made. Though she's involved, we don't if Kitty Pryde will be the catalyst (her character has been played by three actresses to date, most recently Hard Candy/Juno's Ellen Page) and the sequel aspect, following on from First Class events, appears to make an earlier setting for the 'contemporary' X-Men seem more likely - rumoured to be the 1970s. Chris Claremont, who wrote the comic's original story told the Newsarama site that:
"The challenge, I would think, for Bryan is that the heart of the original story is not the fight with the Brotherhood back in the present day. The challenge, the story, is actually what happens in the future. Getting them to the point where you can send Kitty back, and seeing the consequences of what will happen if they fail, and not knowing at the end how it's going to turn out. You think it's going to be a happy ending, but you're not sure, because pretty much everybody dies — in the comic, anyway. You can't not be invested. That's pretty much most of my working life, dancing around or through the X-Men as a concept..".
The suggestion is that we might almost have an inverted story, a 1970s team of X-Men trying to prevent a bad 'future' which would now be parallel with our present. What we DO know for sure though, is pretty exciting in itself. Aware of the fans' appreciation for the first two X-Men films, Singer is seeking to combine aspects of both those earlier adventures AND First-Class continuity and casts - probably using the time-travel paradoxes to iron-out any continiuty hiccups or certain plot developments that didn't go down well (could Famke Janssen's Jean Grey get a proper resurrection?).
We now know that the following original cast members are confirmed as returning: Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto, Anna Paquin as Rogue, Shawn Ashmore as Iceman, Halle Berry as Storm and Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde.
They will appear alongside confirmed returning First Class stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence (fresh from her Silver Linings Playbook Oscar) as Mystique. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) and Omah Sy (The Intouchables) are also confirmed for the film, though it's not known what roles they will ultimately play.
Singer, an openly gay film-maker, has always managed to make the 'underdog/oppressed' metaphor at the heart of the X-Men work towards giving the stories a depth beyond their obvious set-pieces and 'Days of Future Past' seems a perfect book-end to the stories he began by showing a young Eric Lehnsser at Auschwitz. A future where mutants are the ones in concentration campsas a result of intolerance should be perfect material.
With Berry's confirmed return this week and the news that the film will go into production within the next month ready for a July 2014 debut, the ball is already rolling. Of course, even before the film enters cinemas, we have The Wolverine standalone from director James Mangold which is known to have a lot of eastern influence and take place just after The Last Stand ended (though may only lightly touch on those events). It also seems, from early news, that it will have learned the lessons of the previous outing and be much more character-driven.
In short, it looks like, creatively - and despite all the on-screen dramas - it's a good time to be a mutant in Hollywood...