Who’d a thunk the producer of Lock Stock… and Snatch would wind up being such a competent director. The producer-turned-director is a rare bird. The only ones that spring to mind are Joseph L Mankiewicz and Alan J Pakula. But Matthew Vaughn has done it again – he has made yet another exceedingly entertaining film. He’s also breathed new life into a flagging franchise and, although it didn’t entirely set the box office a light, it’s not done too shabbily.
This prequel sees Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) with legs and hair, just starting out as leader of the disparate band of superheroes. With the action skilfully set against a Cold War/Cuban Missile Crisis backdrop, he forges an alliance with the CIA. This is to track down and then train other mutants, teaching them to harness their special powers. All the while, holocaust survivor Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) seeks revenge for atrocities committed by all-round bad guy, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon).
The film sees some delicious early sixties period detail making it so much more interesting than its predecessors. Henry Jackman embraces the age delivering a sixties-tinged score which, at times, can only be described as ‘groovy’. The film-makers must be commended on some inspired casting choices; the likeable McAvoy is straighter than an arrow as philanthropist Professor X, Fassbender gets sympathy for his devil-in-the-making (that’s Magneto), and Kevin Bacon makes a dastardly villain. The younger cast members are a bit lame but it doesn’t matter because the onus isn’t on them so much. This is reflective of the previous instalments in the series where everyone else – for me, personally - lived in Wolverine’s shadow. I suspected there might be a conspicuous Wolverine-shaped hole but luckily there isn’t because Magneto and Professor X are such strong characters. It helps that they’re in their prime and doing all their own ass-kicking instead of being relegated to (and this could be heresy) their more familiar ‘managerial’ roles.
Unlike fans of the comic, I never entirely grasped the gravity of the situation in the previous X-Men films. (I was always more of a Beano fan.) They assumed we’d already know X, Y and Z about erm… X. Whereas this one – involving the creation of the key characters - is a lot more involving, and indeed fun, for the layperson. Basically, Thicko here actually understood what was going on this time.