Looking back at the roots of X-Men

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PREQUELS are one of those minority genres that cater solely to avid fans. They’re directed at the die-hard kids who grow up on the story, and whose thirst for “how did it all begin?” requires a good quenching.

I always find going back to square one a difficult task. Having to erase the knowledge of what I know is to come makes me wonder whether there’s much merit in knowing how we got there.

But in the case of X-Men: First Class, the mysterious origin of the mythological Marvel saga is so long-running it’s about time we had an explanation.

The first X-Men movie famously began with a scene outside a Nazi death camp and the new film reinvents the image: a move appreciated only by those in the know.

Young Erik Lehnsherr – not yet the evil Magento – is a Polish boy who is separated from his parents by Nazi guards in 1944, and dragged towards the camp entrance.

Unleashing a shockwave from his outstretched hand, he twists the metal gates from afar, peaking the curiosity of a sinister Nazi functionary (Kevin Bacon), who plans to harness the boy’s extraordinary talents for use by the Reich.

Michael Fassbender plays the adult Erik in the 1960s, angry, bitter and set on revenge for the murder of his parents.

Meanwhile, chubby young Professor Xavier is played by James McAvoy as a nerdy, Oxfordesque academic specialising in genetics, who lives with Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), a mutant whom he has been brought up with like a sister.

The best parts of the movie are those which show Erik on the Nazi trail. As for the rest of the film, it loses a bit of its raison d’etre once the two heroes join forces, plus we already know how long that lasts.

The question of why some of the mutant cast side with the consensual Xavier, and some with the angry, Magneto is not, frankly, explained by the small amount of character backstory we get for each in the preceding action.

But this is an effective showcase for Fassbender’s character.

If there is to be yet another X-Men movie in the future – though now might be the time to call it quits – then a solo effort with the super-nasty Magneto might be the way to go.

Hopefully though, director Matthew Vaughn will refrain from over-egging the pudding and let this classic film franchise rest on its laurels.