Now, there aren't too many actors out there with more illustrious careers - or bucket-loads of industry respect - than Sir Ian McKellen.
Despite his beginnings as a legendary stage actor in the UK, and critically acclaimed film roles in the likes of Gods and Monsters, Apt Pupil and Richard III, he had, by 2000, become a well respected and consistently working Hollywood actor, but not quite a star. And then he was cast as Magneto in X-Men, and everything changed. Seemingly overnight (though The Lord of the Rings movies inevitably played a major part) McKellen went from respected character actor to go-to guy - and all it took was the X-Men franchise trusting him with one of the greatest roles in superhero movie history.
That casting, though, meant that he also missed out on a whole lot of the rest of the fantasy and superhero movie explosion that the past fifteen years have seen - including the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the Harry Potter series.
Not that McKellen, it seems, would've had it any other way.
As he revealed in an interview with Digital Spy:
Ian McKellen Reckons the X-Men Movies Are the Greatest Fantasy Films Ever Made
Yup, that's right. As he puts it:
"I’ve always thought the X-Men stories were superior, to my taste, to any other fantasy movies because they were about something..."
As opposed to a certain Man of Steel, it seems:
"I don’t think there’s much excitement in the wimp who becomes all powerful when he changes his underwear."
The key reason for that superiority, though?:
"X-Men is about what it is to be different, what it is to be a mutant, and society’s attitude towards difference and all that. That’s an important social thing to discuss."
Which, since I spent my entire childhood completely obsessed by X-Men comics, I can't really argue with too strongly. That being said, though (and full, X-Men love disclosure is implied here):
There's Certainly an Argument to Be Made in Support of Ian McKellen's Claim
Now, don't get me wrong - I'm as big a fan of the MCU as anyone, and remember the awesomeness of Heath Ledger's Joker with crystal clarity, so I'm not about to argue that X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine are amongst the greatest superhero movies of our time.
But with that being said, if we're only talking within the exact terms that Sir Ian sets out - whether or not a superhero or fantasy movie is 'about something' - then it's not too hard to argue that the X-Men series really does have the edge on all of its competition.
After all, the film's retained an awful lot of their original source material's focus on inequality, racism, homophobia and general unfairness.
The X-Men Have Always Been 'About Something'
The original X-Men comics were, after all, largely inspired by the Civil Rights movement, with the comparative approaches of Professor X and Magneto largely mirroring those of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Which is why it's perhaps no surprise that the comics regularly addressed issues of violence, hatred and prejudice, with mutants often acting as a metaphor for persecuted minority groups in the real world.
Over the years, that metaphor increasingly came to reflect the Gay Rights movement as much as (if not more than) that of Civil Rights, as society grew more tolerant, at least in pat - which also became the X-Men movies' main point of metaphorical reference.
After all, the challenges the young X-Men go through - especially in X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand - have a whole lot in common with those dealt with in the real world by members of the LGBTQ community. That's why we see Iceman 'coming out' to his parents, for instance, and why the third movie in the series takes so much time highlighting the ridiculousness of a 'cure' for something that's a natural part of who the characters are. For many millions of people, those issues are real, and pressing, and part of their day-to-day-lives.
And, so, when Ian McKellen says the X-Men movies are superior to their competition because they're 'about something,' he definitely has a case, even if we don't ultimately agree with him...
What do you reckon, though?