After the twin terrors of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the Marvel mutants turn to their “How to continue your sputtering franchise” guidebook and bring out a prequel. But, wisely, instead of banging it out on a budget, they’ve brought in director Matthew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman, who last worked together on Kick-Ass, to do the job properly.
So can they turn this thing around, or will Professor Xavier and chums be making a swift X-it? (Sorry.)
Young Picard Meets Tiny Gandalf
In the previous films, most roles were kept small in favour of two major character tracks: Professor X and Magneto on one hand, Wolverine and his many women on the other. Well, Wolverine isn’t around yet, but that’s okay, it just means more time for the other two to re-enact the civil rights movement.
Luckily, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender (taking over from Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen) are great in those roles, which puts the film on a solid footing. Magneto’s inevitable rejection of the peaceful approach might make the end predictable, but the performances, plot twists and fun sequences stop it being a trudge. I particularly appreciated the nuance used – Xavier is not portrayed as a saint, even if he’s ultimately “the good guy”.
In fact, in prequel terms, this is what the Star Wars prequels could have been if compressed into a single movie and made un-boring. Substitute “Magneto” for “Darth Vader” and there we have it.
Other X-Men Also Appear
Other than the Big Two, we have a crew of young mutants whose fight for minorities everywhere is slightly undercut by the climax of act two. Aside from that, they are all huggable, and the two most recognisable (Nicholas Hoult as Beast and Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique) get a tidy storyline that plays into the main themes well.
Oh, and as criticised in most reviews, January Jones as Emma Frost looks the part but doesn’t really act it. She helpfully disappears for the final third anyway, so we can ignore her.
To make the mandatory big sweeping statement, this is the best X-Men film other than X2, and it might even be better than that; it’s certainly more charming. There’s a lot of fun here, for both fans and normals, so if you’re open to these films, it’s worth checking out. Unexpectedly, this could end up being the best of this summer’s superglut.
But one big question remains: What can they call the sequel? Would Fox really market a film called “Second Class”? Discuss this, and other burning questions, in the comments below.