Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Movie Review: X-Men: First Class

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For all the 21st century special effects which brings them to life on screen, most of the comic book superheroes still selling Happy Meals and movie tickets today started off many decades ago.

Finally, here's a movie which retro-fits its franchise to the era of its birth. It might sound backward. It turns out quite brilliant

X-Men: First Class takes us back to the early 60s, a time when the first batch of atomic age mutant superheroes were appearing in Marvel Comics. But this isn't the comic book origins story. This is the movie X-Men prequel, one which from its first frame also connects neatly to the first frames of 2000's first and best X-Men film. Over two hours later, it's clear this is the second-best X-flick, decades behind but light years ahead the original sequels and the unfortunate Wolverine prequel.

Like the Casino Royale and Star Trek reboots of recent years, First Class is a highly enjoyable return to first principles. One which takes familiar characters - in this case Professor X and Magneto - and shows their first steps into pop culture legend.

Sure, all prequels are meant to do that. But so much of the grip of First Class is down to the story's central thread of how Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, good) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender, great) become mutant brothers-in-arms, only for it to all go pear-shaped when they deal with actual superpowers, as in countries - not just the first generation of those whose genes give them some lethal party tricks.

It is directed by Matthew Vaughn who had much fun deconstructing the superhero movie in his previous outing, Kick-Ass. This one has a great sense of humour too - that's whether it's cameos from future-past X-people, the light relief of the teenage new recruits learning to use their abilities, or quips about Prof Xavier's then fine head of hair.

And it's got a fine sense of original Bond-era style too. Even if it comes close to Austin Powers with the gals - like January Jones' henchwoman Emma Frost. Her boss, Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw (whose initials are bit of a giveaway) makes a fine villain of the Blofeld/Dr No school.

It's so much fun you almost don't notice the mad rush to the big finale involving the Cuban missile crisis, with some slightly iffy special effects. Or that McAvoy spends far too long poking himself in the head every time Xavier is on mind-reading duties.

Otherwise, among this year's superhero screen intake, X-Men First Class graduates with honours.

Stars: 4.5/5
Cast: James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Michael Fassbender
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Rating: M (violence and offensive language)
Running time: 130 mins
Verdict: Just X-cellent

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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