Brilliantly reinvented with a terrific new cast, the summer's greatest action adventure so far is so accomplished in what it sets out to do that, even if you haven't seen a single "X-Men" film previously, you are likely to love this one. Taking a cue from reboots like "Star Trek," "Batman Begins," and any number of other films that go back to the origins of their comic book roots and freshen waning franchises by getting new again, "X-Men: First Class" works as well as it does because it has been perfectly cast with new mutants that not only a mother could love. They are led by younger versions of Professor X, aka Charles Xavier, (played here by James McAvoy and in the original "X-Men" by Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender here, Ian McKellen in the original), and we get to see how they and a new group develop their superpowers and awkwardly navigate the ups and downs of being youthful and uniquely suited to conquer the world.
In an inspired move, this one has been set in the early 1960s, right at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, when the world was on the verge of nuclear war. It is then that the world discovers the existence of the mutants, and also when Charles meets Erik, as they become central to working with the "first class" of mutants to stop the destruction before it is too late. With a group of mutants new to the film series but familiar to comic book readers, there is much for the filmmakers to do, and the film unreels almost like a James Bond flick. It's nonstop excitement mixed with documentary footage of the crisis as it unfolded. Because the height of the civil rights movement also occurred during this era, the mutants' battle to be accepted by society also plays into the story in a strong social context.
Central to all of this is the ongoing conflict between Charles and Erik. McAvoy and Fassbender are such accomplished actors that we see the human divide played out convincingly onscreen as these two future archenemies engage with their own agendas, each absolutely convinced of his righteousness. Among the new actors to the series, Jennifer Lawrence ("Winter's Bone") is a standout as Raven, a blue-skinned shape shifter and Charles' confidante. Nerdy scientist Hank is expertly played by Nicholas Hoult, who gets all the insecurities of a guy with ugly giant hands where his feet should be. In the large cast, there's also excellent work from January Jones as the duplicitous Emma Frost, Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert, Zoe Kravitz as the highflying Angel, and Jason Flemyng as Azazel. Lucas Till as energy-emitting Alex Summers, Caleb Landry Jones as Banshee, and Edi Gathegi as Darwin also make strong impressions. Every good "X-Men" needs a villain, and in Kevin Bacon's power-hungry sociopath Sebastian Shaw they get a doozy, as Bacon obviously has a great time trying to blow up the world
First-class movie entertainment for everyone, this "X" definitely marks the spot for a good time at the multiplex.
Genre: Science fiction
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Matthew Vaughn , Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, and Jane Goldman (story by Bryan Singer and Sheldon Turner)
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Jason Flemyng, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Kravitz, Oliver Platt, January Jones.