It’s tricky tackling a comic book film. For starters, one is generally adapting fairly fantastical ideas. Secondly, if a comic book film gets too serious, it can easily lose a sense of fun and self-awareness. Director Matthew Vaughn seems to have found a good middle ground for his superhero epic, X-Men: First Class.
The genre favorite director could not have made more of a 180° turn from Kick-Ass to X-Men: First Class, both in terms of scope and his approach to the genre. Kick-Ass was the first – or most notable – modern comic book film to turn the genre on its bloody ear. Now, Vaughn is working in the genre he just previously deconstructed, which, as Vaughn says, makes him even better suited for it.
Here’s what the candid and always confident Matthew Vaughn had to say about not taking comic book properties too seriously, making a film for his broadest audience ever, and reading fanboys on the internet.
Mr. Vaughn, how are you doing today?
I have tonsillitis, so I feel like shit. I was going to say fine, but I’m coughing and talking slowly.
Sorry to hear that, but I’m guessing you’re pleased with the positive response the film has been getting so far?
Yeah, it’s nice that people like it. I only finished it, really, about less than a week ago. It’s a real relief.
Well, to start off, you seem to have found a good tone between taking the film seriously and still keeping all the more outlandish aspects intact. Would you say that’s the feel of the film?
Well, I tried to actually set it as close to reality as possible. I was trying to create the feel of the 60s movies where it was very cool, stylish and serious. At the same time, there was something about those movies with how they couldn’t help but to enjoy themselves. I think that’s the tone I was going for.
Like a Bond film?
Yeah, exactly. I was getting to have my cake and eat it too with making an X-Men film/Bond film and a 60s espionage thriller.
That’s kind of like Kick-Ass, where you seemed to be making fun of the superhero genre but, at the same time, you were also making an actual superhero film.
I was never making fun of it. I mean, I love superhero films. Kick-Ass was trying to deconstruct them, making it fresh, original and a love letter on saying how to make it different, and it’s the same thing with this. I love the X-Men world, but I thought it was time for the world to have a breath of fresh air, shall we say.
I’m sure a lot of people ask about the idea of going from a deconstruction of the genre to making a film in that genre, but do you think that actually makes you better suited for a standard superhero film, knowing what doesn’t work about these types of films?
Yeah, I think so. I think deconstructing something is harder than constructing, especially deconstructing something you love. I knew with X-Men that I was given the tools to construct a new movie in a different way, because it was set in the 60s. So, hey, that’s all I need. Let’s do it.
Do you think it’s a bad idea to root a superhero film – which usually has inherently silly ideas – in some form of gritty realism?
Yeah, gritty realism is… reality and gritty realism are totally different things, and I agree with you. For me, I want to be entertained. When I go to see a movie, I want to be entertained and get lost in a world that I can never really be a part of, and that’s what I tried to do with X-Men. You have to be able to believe in and relate to the characters, but wherever I could make it a little more entertaining or heightened, then I would. The rule is to keep it real where you can relate to it, but not make it like a documentary or too realistic.
Could you talk about how the collaboration process on this, obviously a much bigger film than your previous work, differed?
If it doesn’t out-gross my other movies, then I think Fox is going to be very disappointed. I know a lot of people imagine me going, “Oh, Fox was bullying me and trying to change things,” but between a rock and a hard place, I had really good allies. Tom [Rothman] was a true gentlemen and had really good ideas. He got me through it. Our post-production was only nine weeks, so we didn’t have much time; Tom came in and guided me through it.
I imagine the short production schedule wasn’t easy.
On my previous films, when I was asked for a decision, I’d say, “Give me a week and I’ll get back to you.” On X-Men, I was making those decisions in seconds every time. It was outside of my comfort zone but, at the same time, it made me learn a lot more about directing.
So you enjoyed working in that environment where you have to always be thinking a little bit more on your feet?
This time, I definitely had to. Normally, I’m a prep-aholic and a control freak, but here I had to just go with the tide and see what happens. I definitely knew it was going to be a challenge, but I didn’t know how much of a challenge it was going to be [Laughs]. There were a few times when I thought I was going to drown, but luckily enough, there were a few people around me to pull me out of the water.
When you end the shoot and realize you’ve had 5 DPs and 4 ADs, then you know you’ve had a challenging time. When you get through that, because you’re so obsessed with getting it shot, and then you realize you only have nine weeks for post-production, you think, “Oh my God, are we going to make it?” Rothman came in and just got us through it.
This is also your first film where kids are, really, the target audience. When it came to the tone, was there a lot of discussion about how dark you could take certain elements?
I’m a big fan of Roald Dahl. I think he wrote the best children novels of all time, and he did not write for kids, he wrote for adults. Spielberg used to say, “I make kids movies for adults, and adult movies for kids.” I think when you pander to kids, they actually don’t like it. Kids are dark [Laughs]. They’re dark little things. I know some kids that saw it last week, and they loved it. I was talking to them and asked why [they liked it], and they said they felt it was a proper movie. You know, you can’t please everyone. I make movies imagining I’m going to have to watch it.
You mentioned how you can’t please everyone, and I’m sure you notice that on message boards. Do you pay attention to what fans say?
My job is to make a movie that works. I do listen and I do read all the online stuff. Sometimes they’ll say something that’s relevant and I’ll take note, at other times, I remind myself I could be reading an opinion by a six-year-old, and what the hell do they know about filmmaking? You just don’t know who these people are. I just have to make sure I’m making a film that works on its own two feet. Sometimes you get great opinions and sometimes you get abuse. You just have to let the film do the talking.
My final question: I heard you say in an interview awhile ago that the superhero genre is burning out, am I quoting you correctly?
Well, they didn’t quote me quite correctly [Laughs]. The point I was trying to make is that everyone is now making superhero movies, and if they’re not made well, then the genre will die. That’s what I meant. Also, the more they get made, the more likelihood most won’t be good, will be rushed, or made just for money. It will be how the Westerns died. Audiences got flooded with Westerns and they wouldn’t care if there was a good Western coming out, but now, I think, Westerns are going to come back.
I do feel like that’s my fear. I love the superhero genre and I hope we have years and years of it, but they have to be responsible with it and keep making good ones.
X-Men: First Class opens in theaters on June 3rd.