Genre: Superhero/ Sci-fi fantasy blockbuster/prequel.
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Oliver Platt, Nicolas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Lucas Till, Alex Gonzalez, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Jason Fleming, Caleb Landry-Jones, Rebecca Romiijn and Hugh Jackman.
Running Time: 132 mins approx.
Seen at: Altringham
On: Sunday, 5th June, 2011.
Matthew Vaughn, who originally came to filmic fruition with a much darker, edgier project, the 2004 British gangster vehicle Layer Cake – starring Daniel Craig and Sienna Miller, then moved to considerably lighter fare with the fantastical family blockbuster Stardust. Last year, he completely reinvented the comic-book genre with the decidedly adult Kick-Ass.
Now, he infuses those doomy sensibilities into the latest addition to the X-Men cannon. This time, it’s a prequel, telling the story of how the young versions of the brilliant Professor Charles Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart in the original trilogy) and a troubled, angst-ridden young man, Erik Lehnsherr (formally Sir Ian McKellan), came to meet.
We’re put directly into a very bold context straight away. It’s useful to finally see the sharp antithesis established between the very privileged, public-school upbringing of Xavier, compared with the shocking origin of Erik, who, as a holocaust victim, was raised in a prisoner-of-war concentration camp.
Considering this has the very clear watermark of a family-friendly summer blockbuster, Vaughn makes some very brave tonal choices during the opening sequences, not least Kevin Bacon’s brutal execution of Erik’s mother – not graphic in an overly explicit sense, but still surprisingly violent. At one point, during the final demise of Bacon’s antagonist, the action is slowed down, as we even see a coin pass bloodily in and out of his skull – gruesome, but effective...
The action is then set in the early sixties. Refreshingly, the overall artistic ambiance is one heavily reminiscent of the early Sean Connery era of Bond films, mixed with a slight Kubrickan observation. Some of the best set-pieces take place in The Mandela Club – where it’s all retro skintight fashion, cool cocktails and tuxedos.
There’s also a plethora of new additions to the X-Men, including the flighty, winged Angel, and Banshee, who’s power manifests itself through his ability to emit sound waves. The best of the new talent however, arrives in the shape of the young Lucas Till as Havok, a human rotatory deflector-shield, who produces vivid red rays when he spins around in a hula-hooping motion to generate momentum.
Of course, Stewart and McKellan are two considerably impressive boots to fill, and by and large, McAvoy and Fassbender succeed admirably. It’s clever how neither portrayal turns into an exact impersonation, and yet both still manage the task of being original, and capturing their predecessors qualities. Micheal Fassbender is well on his way to fast becoming one of the most impressive and exciting emerging talents of recent years. Always relied upon to be versatile – (a hunger strike victim to vicious Nazi to comic-book adversary), his intense characterization of Lehnsherr should satisfy even the most cynical of fans. You understand how somebody who’s continually persecuted against can easily go from quietly menacing to a power-hungry megalomaniac.
The eclectic choice of casting is also interesting. It’s great to see vastly talented television talent breaking through into movies like Mad Men’s January Jones and Damages star Rose Byrne. Jones plays Emma Frost, a modestly cool customer who can turn her whole body to icicle-encrusted diamonds. Byrne plays the impulsive Dr. Moira McTaggert, who proves she’s just as capable with the fight scenes as her male counterparts.
A team of screenwriters, including Jonathan Ross’s wife Jane Goldman, chose the Cuban missile crisis to serve as a contextually political backdrop for the action to take place within. This is sadly never explored particularly fully, although the script does manage to sneak in a couple of really well-judged cameos from familiar faces.
It’s also inventive to witness more perfunctory versions of later inventions in the stages of their mere infancy – such as Cerebro. We see younger versions of well known supporting characters such as Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique and Nicholas Hoult’s blue-footed Beast – still striving in their age-old struggle for acceptance in a world fearful of abnormality.
There’s a good dollop of mass-scale action, particularly once our heroes master the jet plane. We’re helped in understanding the reasoning behind certain situations. We finally learn exactly how Xavier ends up in a wheelchair, as well as witnessing the dawn of a new reign of terror when, in the final moments, Erik becomes Magneto as we see him only in silhouette, wearing the infamous burgundy helmet – helped enormously by Henry Jackman’s pounding final track of score.
Original, aesthetically inventive and atmospherically refreshing.
Rating: * * *