Movies: "X-Men: First Class" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "X-Men: First Class"
Movies: "X-Men: First Class"


The mighty Marvel megaplex money machine marches on.  With “Thor” still in theaters and “Captain America” waiting in the wings, the Marvel megalith rolls out what may turn out to be the best comic book movie this summer, a prequel titled “X-Men: First Class.”


Directed by Matthew Vaughan, whose previous movie “Kick-Ass” was really a comic book spoof enlivened by a dirty-mouthed tweener, the new “X-Men” is lighter fare than its four predecessors, an entertaining marriage of James Bond thriller and superhero fantasy.


It starts grimly enough, in a German concentration camp where the mental metal-bending abilities of young Erik Lensherr -- the future Magneto-- (Bill Milner, later Michael Fassbender) come to the attention of a silken, sadistic Nazi doctor (Kevin Bacon, whose German accent needs some work, but who really comes into his own when he re-emerges as the villainous Sebastian Shaw here in the States).  


We also meet young Charles Xavier -- the future Professor X -- (Laurence Belcher, later James McAvoy), a child of privilege with telepathic powers who swiftly encounters another mutant, the shape-shifting Raven (Morgan Lily, later Jennifer Laurence).  As the action moves into the 1960’s, we see how everyone has grown:  Erik is now a stone-cold avenger, hunting down former Nazis, while Charles and Raven are now advising the CIA on mutant activities and recruiting a regular circus of young people with otherworldly abilities, flying on sound waves and shooting out flaming hula hoops among them.  I’m serious.


As for the sinister Mr. Shaw, he’s teamed up with icy telepath Emma Frost (real life fembot January Jones), has developed some x-powers of his own, and is determined to bring on World War 3 to wipe out the human race and make way for the new breed of mutants.  It all comes to a head in the Cuban missile crisis of 1963, which it turns out has all been engineered by Sebastian Shaw.  Kids, don’t include this bit of information on your history tests.


For movie lovers, there are lots of things to like about “X-Men: First Class,” including its overt cinema references, not only to the James Bond films but also to “Dr. Strangelove” and even “Basic Instinct,” believe it or not.  And there are some talented cameos to watch for, including Oliver Platt as a CIA scientist, Michael Ironside as a navy captain and Hugh Jackman as, well, a surly Hugh Jackman type (actually Wolverine).


I’ve been recently critical of both Fassbender and McAvoy in recent reviews (of “Jane Eyre” and “The Conspirator,” respectively), but both turn in strong performances in this far-less serious movie, even though Fassbender has to don a ridiculous tinpot helmet at one point.  As for director Vaughan, with a lot more money behind him he does a good job of re-enacting the Cold War ‘60s, in both the US and Moscow, and seems to have had a lot of fun with the early lives of these colorful Marvel characters.


I’m betting that you will too.  


“X-Men: First Class” is rated PG-13 for violence and some hot babes in their scanties.  I give it a B.

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