“X-Men: First Class”
By MICHAEL WALTERS
After hitting a new low for the series, and arguably comic book movies in general, with “Wolverine,” the X-Men series bounces back improbably with the surprisingly entertaining “X-Men: First Class.” For once the story isn’t filled with generic mutants with little personality beyond their one defining power. We get real characters this time instead of just character traits.
The story this time takes us all the way back to the Cold War when Professor X (James McAvoy) was a young academic studying mutations. He’s tapped by the CIA to help stop a maniacal doctor (Kevin Bacon) from starting World War III. In the process Professor X meets up with Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who has his own ax to grind with the doctor. Together they join forces to recruit fellow mutants to join their team to save the world.
I enjoyed the movie most for the acting involved. James Macavoy adds an understated sophistication to the material, and Michael Fassbender is perfect as the mutant walking a delicate balance between good and evil. Kevin Bacon wouldn’t be my first choice for a super-villain, but he acquits himself quite nicely here. The only weak link in the bunch is January Jones who brings a bored monotone to her role as the evil telepath Emma Frost.
The X-Men series gets new life from the cold war allegories and tales of class warfare involved so it becomes about something more than just routine special effects. I wasn’t a fan of Director Matthew Vaughn’s previous feature “Kick Ass” but he keeps things going at a nice zippy pace, while also allowing the characters to develop and tension to build.
I do have one quibble though. For a comic book movie, I found the special effects a little underwhelming. You expect big explosions in a big movie like this to knock your socks off, but the ones here are more likely to inspire a shrug than a shriek.