X Men: First Class review / Susan Granger
Published 2:01 pm, Wednesday, June 1, 2011
"The Godfather," "Star Wars," "Star Trek" and "Batman" did it. Now it's time for the "X-Men" origin story, a prequel that takes the superhero outsiders back to their roots.
During the World War II Poland prologue, while telekinetic Erik Lehnsherr (Bill Milner) is in a concentration camp dominated by steely Nazi scientist Klaus Schmidt (Kevin Bacon), later known as Sebastian Shaw, young Charles Francis Xavier (Laurence Belcher), isolated in upstate New York, discovers he's not the only genetically `different' person on Earth.
Skip ahead to the early 1960s during Cold War era, when now-Professor Xavier (James McAvoy), who possesses the power to read and manipulate people's minds, is hired by CIA agent Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) to hunt down villainous Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his icy sidekick Emma Frost (January Jones). To that end, Xavier recruits and trains other mutants, like shape-shifting teenager Raven Darkholme (Jennifer Lawrence), who becomes seductive Mystique; athlete/scientist Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), who becomes blue-furred Beast; and his future nemesis, Holocaust survivor Erik Lehnsherr (charismatic Michael Fassbender), who becomes Magneto.
The ideologies of Xavier and Lehnsherr are quite different: violence-prone Lehnsherr regards mutants as a superior step on the revolutionary process, while humanistic Xavier opts for acceptance as an equals. Balding but not yet confined to a wheelchair, Xavier establishes himself as a charming, peaceful revolutionary, leading his worldwide organization of outcasts, including Lucas Till as Alex Summers/Havoc and Caleb Landry Jones as Sean Cassidy/Banshee, as they become involved in the clandestine politics of the Cuban missile crisis.
Written by Ashley Miller, Zach Stentz, Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn ("Kick-Ass"), it's episodic by its sprawling concept, and some subplots are better than others. Yet what makes this fifth "X-Men" installment particularly effective is the astute casting: Michael Fassbender ("Inglorious Basterds"), James McAvoy ("Wanted"), Kevin Bacon ("Frost/Nixon"), Jennifer Lawrence ("Winter's Bone), Nicholas Hoult ("About a Boy"), January Jones ("Mad Men") and Rose Byrne ("Damages").
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On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "X-Men: First Class" is an explosive, adventurous 8, as comic-book movies go.