Rating: 4 stars out of 5
X-Men: The Last Stand was a limp send-off to the original X-Men trilogy. Now Marvel has turned back the clock to when it all started, with an all-new cast and set of mutants. The result is an invigorating revival of the series, augmented by great performances from its cast.
Loyalists of the comic book may not like the liberties that the filmmakers have taken with the story and timeline. But those more familiar with the movie version of the mutants will likely enjoy this reimagining of the mutants and their place in history.
The movie kicks off showing the younger days of Erik Lehnserr, the future Magneto, as he and family are interned into a Jewish concentration camp during WWII. Having a far more easy life is Charles Xavier, who encounters Raven, in his stately home.
Fast forward and it’s the 60s during the Cold War. Tensions are mounting between the US and Russia, and the Hellfire Club, led by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), intends to ignite a nuclear war in order to create a world for mutants. Xavier (James McAvoy) and Lehnserr (Michael Fassbender), along with Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), assemble a team of young mutants and hone their powers in order to stop the Club, in a showdown at the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The film mixes together James Bond espionage drama into the superhero action smack down, though on a larger scale. Matthew Vaughan directed this outing, while Bryan Singer produced, and the result is a superhero film that focuses on the human rather than the inhuman.
As in any other origins story, the film focuses on the relationship between Charles and Erik. Erik wants revenge on Shaw, who killed his mother in front of his eyes, while Charles strives to save Erik from himself. Erik is more of an anti-hero here, rather than a villain, and the film dwells on shades of grey rather than straightforward black and white.
There’s also the subplot involving Raven and Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and their desire to look normal rather than embrace their mutant selves.
The segments where the film falls flat are the recruiting and training of the young mutants. It doesn’t quite fit into the whole picture and takes away from the film. The scene where the mutants demonstrate their powers to each other is a chore and takes away the momentum of the film.
There are sterling performances throughout the film. January Jones from Mad Men is perfectly cast as Emma Frost, the ice queen of the mutant set, while Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Raven/Mystique, is also great in the role of a tortured mutant unwilling to accept herself. Bacon is surprisingly menacing as the leader of the sharply dressed Hellfire Club.
But it’s the two leads, McAvoy and Fassbender, who truly shine. McAvoy humanizes Xavier, who in the trilogy, came across as stodgy and often two-dimensional. Fassbender is superb as Erik, whose desire for revenge has swallowed up his purpose. The two bring out the best and the worst in each other, and the scenes between them, dwelling on Erik’s thirst for revenge and the role of mutants in the world, forms the backbone of the film.
Undoubtedly this prequel, which puts together humour, action, drama and espionage is at the top of the heap of this year’s bumper crop of super hero films, and may even be considered one of the best.