By Darren Franich
Updated October 26, 2012 at 10:17 PM EDT
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It’s disappointing that Matthew Vaughn has departed the X-Men: First Class sequel. First Class wasn’t perfect, but it had a swinging-’60s spy-film swagger that felt unique among its superhero movie brethren, which mostly trend towards Nolanesque grit-realism or Marvel-brand chipper glitz. Rumors indicate that Vaughn might be replaced by Bryan Singer, who directed X-Men 1 and 2, produced First Class, and was already onboard for the sequel — in fact, Singer’s the one who revealed the title of the movie, Days of Future Past. But if Singer doesn’t step in, Vaughn’s departure could be an opportunity for a young director looking to leave his mark on the superhero genre.

So who should direct Days of Future Past? Given the movie’s likely ’60s setting, and the potential for a time-travel plotline, the mind races with glorious possibilities. But it’s worth keeping two things in mind: 1. Not everyone wants to make a superhero prequel-sequel, and 2. Fox doesn’t tend to have their eye on auteurs when it comes to big blockbuster films. Darren Aronofsky was briefly going to direct The Wolverine, mostly on the strength of his relationship with Fountain star Hugh Jackman, but when he departed, journeyman director James Mangold replaced him. So let’s set aside big names here — Christopher Nolan! Edgar Wright! Terrence Malick, why not! — and focus on the more likely options: Up-and-coming directors looking to break into blockbusterdom, and work-for-hire professionals with decent track records.

As it happens, Fox recently made a list filled with names like that when director Rupert Wyatt departed the studio’s other prequel-sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. That list included Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later) and Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter), both good directors who deserve a chance at big-budget glory. The list also included Rian Johnson, who seems like the perfect director for the material: His Looper deftly handled a time-hopping plotline, and balanced action-movie pyrotechnics with genuine heart. I might throw a couple of foreigners into the mix, too: Tomas Alfredson’s great adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy had a similar period setting and a ridiculously complicated plot, while Tom Tykwer stages an impressive comeback after years in the post-Run Lola Run wilderness with this weekend’s Cloud Atlas, his collaboration with the Wachowskis. And while we’re talking foreign, certainly someone in Hollywood needs to snag Gareth Evans, whose martial-arts film The Raid: Redemption put all of this year’s American action movies to shame.

What do you think, fellow X-Men fans? Play Hollywood for a second: Who’s your director for Days of Future Past?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

Read more:

Matthew Vaughn won’t direct sequel ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’

Bryan Singer confirms title of ‘X-Men: First Class’ sequel, and it’s a doozy

‘X-Men’ movie round-up: Producer teases upcoming ‘Deadpool,’ ‘Wolverine,’ ‘X4,’ and ‘X5′ projects

PopWatch Dictionary: ‘Preboot.’ (Example: ‘X-Men: First Class’)

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