After the disappointment of the last two offerings in the X-Men franchise - X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Last Stand - Director Vaughan raises the level back to Singer's standards. The Vaughan and Jane Goldman screenplay collaboration team are together again after their successful run of films, Kick-Ass and Stardust and they deliver on character and cool yet again.
A character driven X-Men film that focuses on the back stories of Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) and Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), their friendship, and how they end up on opposing sides. Set in the 1960s against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, the JFK presidency and the Cuban missile crisis, the story cleverly interweaves the revolutionary feel and socio-political issues of the time into the dawning of the X-Men’s existence.
With an opening sequence that delves into the contrasting childhoods of Lehnsherr and Xavier and introduces the villainous Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) in a brutal sequence that leads on from the original X-Men movie where Lehnsherr is torn away from his parents at a concentration camp, the dark nature of the violence sets it apart from the rest of the X-Men franchise. With no Wolverine in this one, cool fight sequences are kept to a minimum, with spectacle and special effects taking over.
Fassbender brings pure class and conviction to the table in his portrayal of Erik Lehnsherr, who in essence is a man (albeit with superpowers) dead set on revenge. His intensity and sheer screen presence twinned with the story behind his anger is compelling viewing. The level of graphic violence that Vaughan is willing to use becomes pretty obvious early on from a scene involving Lehnsherr, some barbed wire and metal manipulation, ouch!
McAvoy takes the role of Charles Xavier and makes it his own; no Patrick Stewart impressions present here, rather a portrayal of a recent Oxford Graduate who happens to be a mutant growing up in a sheltered existence. He is not the older and wiser version we are used to seeing, more a flirtatious fool whose integrity grows with each challenge he is faced with. His only friend is Raven Darkholme, better known as Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), whose blue skin is perfectly presented with special effects and flawless makeup. Whilst on the subject of makeup, I am afraid to say Nicholas Hoult’s transformation into Beast is more cowardly lion than magnificent mutant. Hoult’s performance was stellar from the very moment he appeared and the building friendship between Beast and Mystique is wonderful to watch, but the makeup failed to frighten in the big reveal scene.
In the same way that Forrest Gump references moments in history, Goldman and Vaughan use the Cuban missile crisis as a plot element that heavily features the character of Sebastian Shaw and his scheme to gain world domination. Bacon plays the role of this malevolent mutant who can absorb power and use it as he wishes with aplomb, never hamming it up, in this self assured and perfectly pitched performance.
With so many characters and powers to introduce the film does, at times, become a special effects showcase. Azazel, whose power of teleportation is depicted with swooshes’ of black mist, and Riptide act as silent henchmen for Sebastian Shaw. Some of the younger mutants are overlooked when it comes to development and back-story but with such strong performances from McAvoy and Fassbender to focus on this is easily forgivable. Featuring a couple of cameos for the fans of the previous X-Men movies, with some razor sharp comic timing their appearance lightens the mood of the film and delivers some of the biggest laughs.
Stylish settings with technology and design from the 1960s are used to great effect with an array of sharp suits and turtlenecks to boot for the men. Not faring so well are the lingerie laden women draping off men that look like they have walked straight in from the opening credits of a Bond film. With cleavage galore from Mad Men’s January Jones in her role as Emma Frost and Rose Byrne down to her knickers within minutes of appearing on screen the nod to a bygone era may be offensive to some, but it does add to the overall feel and authenticity . Add a split screen montage sequence that uses solid black lines for separation in true 60s style, saucy banter and some self referential wit and you have a solid piece of stylish filmmaking.
Expected rating: 9 out of 10