Dir. Matthew Vaughn. USA. 2011.

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This 20th century Fox release directed by Mathew Vaughn with story by Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer, scripted by  Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz , Jane Goldman and Vaughn, charts the epic beginning of the X-men saga. Following the not-so-happening ‘X men Origins: Wolverine,’ this 60’s set origin story imagining the rise of Professor X, Magneto and their earliest mutant disciples is drenched in cold war paranoia and served with a mythical dimension that may not necessarily
enthuse Stan Lee purists. The screenwriters expand the Auswitz-set prologue of year 2000’s ‘X-men’ to include Nazi nihilism, x-treme action following the regrouping of powerful  mutants to fight against world decimation and is underlined by a James Bond kind of  stylish swagger towards the finish.

Young camp refugee Erik Lensherr (Bill Milner) who has the power to bend metal with his mind becomes evil Nazi Dr. Schmidt’s (Kevin Bacon) personal experiment with uncontrolled power. Out of prison camp, an adult Erik(Michael Fassbinder) seeks revenge with mind-bending help from dashing Oxford academic Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) whose utopian visions leaves little room for their combined forces to last beyond the prison of this uniquely styled franchise. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), shape-shifting adoptive sister to Xavier provides the psychological conflict required to catapult this thrill-a-minute actioner to something higher than just that. The pronounced ideological conflicts between Xavier and Erik also helps raise that bar.

Helmer Vaughn showcases his expressiveness to great effect  while stamping the narrative with visions of intolerance and suspicion within the setting of  the period of Nazi domination and in the latter half of nuclear paranoia and Cuban missile crisis. The recruitment and training sequences unlocking of extraordinary potential through instinctive ingenuity - of the plasma-blasting Havok (Lucas Till); sonic screamer Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones); the adaptive Darwin (Edi Gathegi, too little seen); and big-footed Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) are particularly engaging. Their emotional, philosophical and physical progressions are cleverly defined. Chris Seagers’ retro-oriented production design is shown off to great effect by ace Lenser John Mathieson’s absorbing tracking and sharp camera angles. Fassbender and McAvoy bear little resemblance to their earlier franchise counterparts Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart yet they manage to fit in and make Charles and Erik memorable. Hoult and Lawrence show off their respective characters’ existential conflicts to great effect while Bacon’s Schmidt and January Jones’ Emma Frost give stark villainy added dimensions. This flick is fast paced, smartly engineered, strong on psychological depth and has action that is visually stunning. Can we ask for more from a super-hero franchise?

*  *  *  ½

Johnson Thomas

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