The prequel to the X-Men series takes a concept that had been running out of steam and restores it to life in a cracking good film.
X-Men: First Class
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, January Jones, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence
The director Matthew Vaughn recently admitted that he had hired Take That to contribute a song to the closing credits of X-Men: First Class because he thought it might entice women to see the film. Not that that makes a lot of sense – as much as it would be fun to see Gary Barlow have his limbs torn off by mutants, they’re not actually in it, mercifully – but the point is, Vaughn is a savvy, commercial businessman (as well as directing the likes of Layer Cake and Kick-Ass, he produced Guy Ritchie’s early successes). And because this prequel is so good – delivering just about everything you could possibly want it to, and probably more than you expect – he’s about to make both his employers and his audiences very happy.
After the series hiccuped with X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine, Bryan Singer, the director of the first two X-Men films, was brought back to tell the story of how Charles Xavier (aka Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) met and formed an increasingly unstable alliance. When the schedule clashed with his commitments to the forthcoming Jack the Giant Killer, Singer had to abandon his directorial duties, but remained on board as producer, and his guiding hand is ever-present.
With James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender playing younger versions of the characters made celluloid legend by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, moral themes are back at the forefront, supported by a character-driven story, a sharp script, and a cast with heaps more chemistry and gravitas than we have seen even in Singer’s instalments.
When Vaughn took over as director, he told one reporter he thought the genre was overcrowded, that superhero movies were being mined to death, and that he wanted to have a go while he could because he didn’t hold out much hope for the immediate future of such products. He was right, we’re swamped with these things. Marvel Comics is indeed mining its extensive catalogue, while across the board we’re being bombarded with sequels, spin-offs, remakes, reboots, reboots of reboots. This is partly due to the success of Singer’s two X-Men titles, so it’s somewhat poetic that he should be partly responsible for this triumphant resuscitation.
He and Vaughn have given the series such a jolt of life it feels wholly rejuvenated, with Vaughn even pulling off some of the more hazardous elements of this sort of film, treating the conceit and characters with such respect that even the slightly ludicrous yellow costumes the gang end up wearing (a sartorial nightmare that was slyly mocked in Singer’s first X-Men) only seem a little goofy.
The fact that this, despite being the fifth in the series, is so entertaining and so creatively successful, is testament to the storytelling fundamentals Singer, Vaughn and the screenwriters have concentrated on. The result is not just a great superhero film, but a great film.