X: First Class (2011)

(In theaters, June 2011) I wasn’t expecting anything after the underwhelming Wolverine, but this X-Men: First Class is a return to the strengths of the original trilogy: Some thematic heft, good acting performances, clever sequences and an sense of cool that doesn’t fall into self-indulgence.  Even as a prequel, it works just fine: There’s some dramatic irony at the way the characters come together and split apart, and the script is wildly successful at weaving the October Missile Crisis in the fabric of the plot.  James McAvoy may be good as Charles Xavier, but it’s Michael Fassbender who steals the show as Magneto, with plenty of good supporting roles for people such as Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence and Oliver Platt.  (Meanwhile, January Jones -for all she brings to the film by parading around in white thigh-highs and gogo boots- seems unacceptably stiff).  The initial X-Men trilogy worked well in large part due to its thematic ambitions about bigotry, normalcy and self-acceptance; if First Class doesn’t do much than rehash the same issues from “didn’t ask, didn’t tell” to “mutant and proud”, it’s still far more interesting than other recent meaningless comic-book films like Thor.  The idea to set the film in the early sixties has refreshing stylistic implications (despite the anachronism of late-sixties fashion) that carry through to the Saul-Bass-tinged closing credit sequence.  Director Matthew Vaughn manages to helm a surprisingly talky film with the right mixture of action and character moments, while giving some energy to the whole.  X-Men: First Class may be a small victory for style over rehashed substance, but even in repeating itself it seems quite a bit better than the norm –and in presenting itself attractively, it makes itself difficult to criticize.  Suffice to say that it’s an enjoyable film, and even one that may get viewers to watch the original trilogy again –something that seemed improbable after Wolverine.

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