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“X-traordinary This Time”

There should be a new edict that no action film should be made without guidance from Matthew Vaughn.  The director of “Kick Ass” and “Stardust” has kicked the ”X-Men” series into shape and the only disappointment is that no one has asked him yet to redo the first three films with his flair.

Set in the Mod ’60s, “X-Men: First Class” presents the origin of the human vs. mutants wars, which finds its genesis in a Nazi program lead by a sadist (Kevin Bacon). This Mengele-type doctor experiments on a child with the power to move metal.  The boy Erik (eventually played by Michael Fassbender) grows up with a hate-filled vendetta and a mission to destroy the doctor.  In the early ’60s, Erik meets up with a young professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and a government agent (Rose Byrne), all with a common enemy. Xavier and his adopted sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) are also mutants and with Xavier’s telepathic abilities, they seek out all hiding mutants to build an army of misfits to save the world from pure powerful evil.

 

Vaughn makes full use of the 1960s setting with swinging music, mini-skirts and dialogue that would make Austin Powers feel at home.  Vaughn even splits the screens in a nod to Norman Jewison’s “Thomas Crown Affair.” The script by Vaughn, Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Jane Goldman establishes the main characters’ motivations (rage, isolation) so that the characters we met in the original films gain emotional weight.  The film also winks at the James Bond series (the Sean Connery days) with sly dialogue and a general hipness of Dr. No as well as the Rat Pack films (“Ocean’s Eleven”, “Robin And The Seven Hoods”).

 

The cast is impeccable.  Fassbender, a rising star in Hollywood, is suave and smoldering as a younger version of the super villain played by Ian McKellen in the earlier series. His wavering morality is fully articulated by Fassbender with every expression and stare.  McAvoy, playing the morally stalwart Xavier who will grow into paraplegic Patrick Stewart, captures youthful exuberance and immaturity whose passion and altruism will eventually lead him to foster an academy of superheroes.  It’s not a pure angel role.  Some of his poor choices lead other characters to lose their faith in humanity. That this gallant character is allowed to make mistakes grants him shades usually missing in popcorn flicks.  Bacon, playing a villain as perverse as Bond’s Goldfinger or Blofeld, emerges as the monster you love to hate.  Last year’s Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence is luminous as the frustrated Mystique, one who learns to hide her “perversities” and resents herself and others for that self-hatred.  Rounding out the cast is January Jones as the sparklingly evil Emma Frost.

Whether a comic book fan or novice, a cheerleader of the original film series or a naysayer, this latest film is a crackerjack action thriller that will excite even the most jaded summer moviegoer. Grade: A

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