The X-Men movie franchise is taken back to its roots, to when Mutants first appeared and Humankind discovered that it was not alone. This is a re-boot for the film series, but should it be kicked out the door, or welcomed in…?
After a film series has been running a while it is so easy to become complacent and walk into the latest release feeling a bit jaded – “Here’s yet another one” – particularly when the series is being re-started. This can only mean – surely? – that the series has run out of steam and this is a desparate last attempt to squeeze something out of the idea.
You could eeasily be forgiven for making an inward groan when your preview ticket shows a running time of 132 minutes. How will you survive for that length of time?
Well… the answer is “very easily”. All the negative possibilities of a series re-boot are swept away as those 132 minutes just fly past. There are thrills and spills galore, but most important are the stories of the characters and how they evolve into the older versions we saw in the films already made.
Most importantly is the story of Erik Lehnsherr, who will become Magneto. In the very first X-Men film we only had time for a brief, but powerful, glimpse of his childhood in a Nazi concentration camp, but now we are able to spend a little bit more time in this period and get a much better understanding of just why Magneto become the person he did. One strong reason for that is arch-villain Sebatastian Shaw, superbly played by Kevin Bacon, who is probably one of the best non-Bond ‘Bond villains’ we’ve seen for some time.
The story makes many nods to the previous films – although I probably missed as many as I saw – but these nods were never at the expense of the story, nor did they expect any pre-knowledge. I’ve not read the comics, so I’ve no idea how closely this followed any published story, if indeed it does at all. The important thing is that at no time did I feel I was missing out on anything. There is a special guest appearance at one point, not essential to the plot in any way, but if you’ve seen the previous films it’s a great plus.
The story also explains more of the connections between the characters, not least the blue-feathered shape-shifter Raven, and also another blue character, Beast, who had seemed to pop into an earlier film out of nowhere!
The backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis is used well, keeping the tension of the story between the focus of the story, but also managaing to bring in just how close the world did come into a nuclear war back in the 1960s. And considering the film’s determination to show all points of view of the opposing Mutants, it’s refreshing to see that the Human Soviets are not portrayed as just a bunch or warmongers. My only hesitation in basing this on a real event in history is that we don’t really know where the delineation is between the actual events of the Cuban crisis and where this timeline veered off into the world of the X-Men.
Perhaps the main fault of the film – but not one that particularly strikes you while you’re watching it – is that the peripheral Mutants don’t get much character. That is a shame, but the story of the lead Mutants does rather hog events. Good to see, though, is where the idea to name the Mutants came from, and how the, relatively, conservative Xavier ended up being Professor X!
It’s a surprise, a good surprise, and leaves you wanting more. Hurrah!