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Magneto’s Magnetism…

Another day, another superhero movie. Still, the long-rumoured X-Men Origins: Magneto is a project which has aroused quite a bit of my interest, if only because it has the potential to be unlike any other film in that genre. And if – as it appears – the superhero film is here to stay, we should at least welcome those that are willing to deviate from the norm, even a little bit and even if they don’t work out. Still, I wholeheartedly accept that it could end up being as pointless and soulless as Wolverine was, so I won’t be priming my hopes too much.

"You shall not recast!"

"YOU SHALL NOT RECAST!"

Of the whole rake of X-Men spin-offs (and – now – Wolverine spin-offs) planned, Magneto is the most adventurous and the most novel. The rumoured X-Men: First Class is basically ‘teenage X-Men’ and would just be a horrible excuse to give us teenage wangst with a bunch of characters who weren’t particularly interesting when played by talented actors, let alone teen heart throbs. X-Men Origins: Deadpool is likely going to end up stuck in development hell as Ryan Reynolds gets to grips with playing a DC superhero doing the Green Lantern movie over at Warner Brothers. Plus, from what I hear, the handling of the character in Wolverine was not ideal. I’ll concede that the notion of a character with medium awareness (in the comics the character Deadpool is aware he is in the comics) is an interesting one and might add a neat level of metafiction to the proceedings (like if Flann O’Brien wrote Die Hard), I’m not entirely sure I can see Fox fronting Ryan Reynolds in a metafictional superhero film. X-Men Origins: Gambit is probably not going to happen, but would likely be more of the soulless and pointless action we saw from Wolverine. Plus, all the aforementioned examples would fall into the trap of having a bazillion supporting mutants cluttering an already pointless storyline – like X-Men III and Wolverine.

So, what makes Magneto so different?

I’m tempted to answer Sir Ian McKellen, but it is pretty much accepted that the character will be recast as a younger actor for the prequel. Still, maybe we’ll get a nice framing device with Sir Ian. And possibly with a non-creepily de-aged Patrick Stewart too, the two best things about the first series of movies. There are a whole host of other reasons to do the project, but that is a damn good one as reasons go.

Another reason would be that – unlike the other examples listed – this prequel would have a point. One of the most irritating things about Hugh Jackman’s prequel (aside from the inexplicably amateur CGI) was that there was no point. The character went on a journey and then lost his memory and any growth he may have (but didn’t really) experienced. It was fruitless. With Magneto, the character doesn’t lose his memories. Indeed, it would offer us a chance to understand the viewpoint of one of the most interesting comic book characters brought to the silver screen.

Magneto sulked when he discovered that that thing with the samurai swords up its arms from Wolverine would get a spin-off movie before he did...

Magneto sulked when he discovered that that thing with the samurai swords up its arms from Wolverine would get a spin-off movie before he did...

Magneto – in any medium – is particularly compelling because he is an anti-villain. Anti-hero is too generous a term, but we can understand why he does what he does and we may even sympathise. He knows what fear and prejudice can drive people to do to those different from them. The opening scene in X-Men, featuring the manifestation of Magneto’s powers at a concentration camp, features perhaps the most powerful imagery in the entire series. He nearly tears the camp apart to get back to his family. Sure, making the mutant terrorist a Nazi survivor smacks of Goodwin’s Law, but it works. We can see where he’s coming from.

He’s generally polite and considerate. He is close friends with the leader of the organisation trying to bring him down (even playing chess). He just believes that coexistence is impossible. Of course, he has crossed the line once or twice, but he’s an interesting character and provides the fantastic dynamic that makes the first two films the best in the series. We’ve never really had a superhero film with an anti-villain as a protagonist. You could point to the Punisher films, but I’d argue that’s a whole different kettle of fish – the lead there has never attempted genocide and certainly doesn’t target innocents (or accept collateral damage). Watchmen doesn’t really match either as the entire world is topsy-turvy and the only comparable character is Veidt (who isn’t a lead in any real form in the film).

As such, a character profile could be fascinating, if done right. There’s also another, more superficial reason why it could work. Inglourious Basterds has taught us that audiences will accept unique Nazi-killers. Perhaps it’s time we had a superhero Nazi killer. A superhero revenge epic. In giving him his own film, Magneto could be made a true anti-hero as he hunts down those he feels responsible for his persecution and the death of his family.

However, this all might just be pointless speculating. Wolverine 2 is the movie that is currently being fast-tracked, and I can’t see Fox being willing to market a Nazi-killing anti-hero to that lucrative family audience. In order to do all that cross-over spin-off stuff that they are so keen to market, you’ll probably find the story over-crowded with cameos from other mutants and characters, which is a shame as Magneto himself and possible his friend Charles Xavier could support the story themselves. After all, given the rumoured hell that Wolverine went through with rows between the Fox executives and the director, Gavin Hood, imagine what a movie as potentially dark as Magneto would go through there. You never know though, but I’m not going to count my chickens.

Fox knows it has a risky property here. That’s the reason that Magneto was held-off until after Wolverine, despite the fact that the two were originally announced together. Choosing to go with the all-singing, all-dancing Hugh Jackman as a killing machine made of an indestructible metal over a borderline aristocratic murderer with a god-complex is perhaps an understandable move, but I’m not sure what would have been the best outcome for Magneto. If the film bombed, no more spin-offs (including Magneto) would get made. If it succeeded (which it did), then the movie would have its own mindless explosion-filled spin-offs. Neither bodes well for a film that should be as deep and complex as Magneto.

My inner skeptic tells me to keep my hopes in check. Being honest, I’m not getting too excited on the grounds that it simply won’t happen. Still, if it does, it might be interesting to look back at this article and see how much (if any) of it is relevant.

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