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X-Men: First Class
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Reviewed on 2011-06-02
Received[3.5]  out of 4 stars
GenreAction / Adventure / Drama
A much-needed transfusion of new blood into this Marvel Comics-based prequel makes for a suspenseful and thrilling action-fueled adventure. The title refers to the original group of students with genetic mutations that possess extraordinary powers, but it also could be the label attached to the quality of the story, special effects, sound, editing and production design.

This is a triumph for director Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”) and a cast of fresh faces inhabiting familiar roles. Bryan Singer, who directed the first two films, returns to the franchise as producer.

A dark musical score and the trademark Marvel logo give way to an opening scene set in 1944 at the Auschwitz concentration camp, Young Erik Lensherr is separated from his parents. He shows early signs of a special gift when he is able to bend the gates. He is brought to the office of the evil camp doctor Klaus Schmidt (Kevin Bacon) to demonstrate his unique ability. He witnesses Schmidt killing his mother when he is unable to make a shiny Nazi coin move. The anger and pain triggered by this event turns Erik into a vengeance seeker for the rest of his life.

In Westchester, N.Y., another 12-year-old boy, Charles Xavier, grabs a baseball bat when he hears an intruder rumbling around the kitchen downstairs. He comes across what appears to be his mother looking for food. Using his telepathic power, he discerns that it really is blue-skinned, red-haired and yellow-eyed Raven Darkholme in a shape-shifting disguise.

The movie fast forwards to 1962. Erik (Michael Fassbender from “Inglourious Basterds” and “300”) is on a globe-trotting quest to find and kill Schmidt, who has resurfaced as wealthy megalomaniac Sebastian Shaw with designs to conquer the world. Shaw has developed the power to absorb, harness and redirect energy.

Shaw is under investigation for his nefarious activities by the CIA. Special Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne from “Bridesmaids”) on an undercover assignment strips down to her sexy lingerie and enters the Hellfire Club in Las Vegas to gain information. She witnesses some strange paranormal activity. She realizes that an expert in genetic mutations is needed. She contacts Charles (James McAvoy from “Wanted” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”) who has now become a full professor.

Charles along with Raven (Jennifer Lawrence from “Winter’s Bone”) meets with MacTaggert and other high-ranking espionage personnel at CIA headquarters and prove that mutants with extraordinary powers do exist in the world. A man in a black suit (Oliver Platt) takes Charles and Raven under his wing.

Erik and Charles meet and join forces with the CIA in pursuit of a common enemy. They along with Raven are taken to a covert research base. They meet super smart researcher Dr. Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). He develops a powerful device to find coordinates of other mutants.

These new mutant recruits include Angel (Zoe Kravitz), Alex/Havoc (Lucas Till), Armondo/Darwin (Edi Gathegi) and Sean/Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones). Hank ends up becoming Beast and Raven takes the name Mystique. Each enthusiastic and spirited recruit demonstrates their freakish power. The group’s catchphrase motto becomes “Mutant and proud!”

This all sets the stage for the ultimate showdown at the Bay of Pigs, bringing the Cuban Missile Crisis into this fictitious drama. Archival black and white archival footage of JFK and Nikita Khrushchev add a historical accuracy to the mix.

The movie has a definite Cold War vibe and brings back fond memories of the early James Bond films starring Sean Connery. Fassbender stands out as a cool customer with an ingratiating charisma and drop-dead looks. He shows off his linguistic ability by speaking German, French and Spanish. He would be my choice to be the next James Bond should Daniel Craig decide to vacate the role.

Although some may need a scorecard to keep track of all the characters, the story is easy to follow without the need for lengthy exposition for those unfamiliar with the comic books. Vaughn expertly balances character development with big action set pieces. The movie never drags and the pacing is just right with a running time of 132 minutes.

This blockbuster superhero movie is the best and brightest of the franchise. A definite must-see drama on a large screen at your nearest multiplex that wipes out the disasters of “Last Stand” and “Wolverine” and seamlessly ties back in to the first two movies.

Review By:
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"


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