For over a decade now, we have gotten use to the superhero genre, but back in 2000 when Bryan Singer directed the first X-Men, we were witnessing something new. Following the uber-campiness of Batman and Robin,what Singer brought to the X-Men was a level of seriousness (most notably in its opening sequence featuring a young Magneto living through the Holocaust) with hints of humour. One can’t deny the fact that without Singer’s approach to the superhero film, we wouldn’t have films like Spider-Man or The Dark Knight.
Following the superiority of X2, the franchise took a left turn when it was helmed by Brett Ratner (who directed the majorly-flawed third instalment) and Gavin Hood (who directed the pointless Wolverine prequel). Whilst we wait (or not) for the Wolverine sequel, we get to see the original mutant class who became Professor X’s X-Men, now in the hands of Matthew “Kick-Ass” Vaughn.
What Vaughn (originally going to helm The Last Stand) brings to the series is similar to what J.J. Abrams did forStar Trek. Presenting an almost Batman Begins-styled origin story. Set in 1962, we see the evolution of characters we are so familiar with, now played by a fresh and younger cast. The telepathic professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy) starts up a school and later a team for humans with mutated abilities, amongst them Erik Lehnsherr(Fassbender). Meanwhile, another group of mutants known as the Hellfire Club have attempts for world domination through the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Amidst the epic action cleverly presented within the political backdrop within that period, at the centre of the story is the birth of a friendship between Xavier and Lehnsherr, who as we all know what they will become.
Setting the story in the 60s, it shows that the Brit director was influenced by the early Bond films as some of the male characters have swag, while some of the glamorous female figures are in vintage underwear, most notably January Jones as the villainous Emma Frost. Again, the Bond influence shines on certain aspects such as the X-Men’s gadgetry and the Hellfire Club, in terms of their classy looks and dastardly plot involving the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Although there is compelling mutant action, it is not as compelling as the strong characterisation. Previously played by “sir” Shakespearean actors who are heroes within the sci-fi/fantasy fanbase, the two central friends/enemies feel fresh and new through the acting talents of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.
McAvoy, in particular, shows a new side to Xavier who we see before being bald and in a wheelchair. During his characterisation, we are introduced to McAvoy’s Xavier as an over-confident and flirtatious young professor who during his time as X-leader realises he has a responsibility which is peace for humans and mutants alike.
As for a pre-Magneto Lehnsherr, Fassbender who not only brings a cool James Bond-like presence, is a tortured soul whose time during the Holocaust affects his current life whilst he swore revenge on the antagonist Sebastian Shaw. During the course of the film, we see how he became Magneto, similar to how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, although Hayden Christensen is one for hammy acting, Fassbender’s approach to Magneto is a proper tour-de-force.
Whilst the film is an utter nerdgasm as it has everything you want in a blockbuster (with mutant action, characters in superhero outfits, women wearing fantastic lingerie), there are things that are somewhat overshadowed. For example, despite the playfulness of the young class members and the classiness of the villains, the film’s fast pace doesn’t allow for an in-depth exploration of the supporting players. On the plus side, there is a wonderful subplot between Jennifer Lawrence’s blue-skinned Mystique and Nicholas Hoult’s blue-furred Beast whose scenes are about being normal and hiding their actual appearances.
While it is not up there with Vaughn’s previous comic-book outing, the impressive young cast, stylish direction and intelligent action are first class and mark a big comeback for a much-rebooted franchise.
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
Runtime: 132 min