“X-Men: The Younguns” has its share of things that go boom but it doesn’t follow the summer blockbuster format. There aren’t action sequences every ten minutes, the characters actually talk to one another and there’s even subtitles! What a relief. After the heavy metal bombast of “Thor” and its ilk, “X-Men” is more like the art rock of a Radiohead disc—brainy but still fun.
From concentration camps in Poland to a mansion in Westchester, NY, “First Class” details the evolution of the mutant band of X-Men (and Women). We learn how the two most powerful mutants, Eric / Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) get along long enough to put together a team of mutants, but soon find themselves on opposite side in a game of Free to Be You and Me. Add in some former Nazis, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Betty Draper and you have one of the most satisfyingly good blow-‘em’-up movies of the year so far.
“X-Men: First Class” is a bit talkier than you might expect from a big budget comic book movie, but at least they’re saying something. It isn’t just chatter. Mixed in with the action and the one-liners you expect from these kinds of films is a parable about tolerance and social context with a timely edge—one line in particular, “Security is more important than liberty,” sounds scarily up to date—but the reason it all works so well is that it has the best of all worlds, good crash-boom-bang, great villains, cool characters and a script that respects all of the above. If they wanted to make it less chatty, I suppose they could cut some of January Jones’s lines. One thing is for sure, acting is not her super power.
The other actors, however, do their best to make us forget that Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen once donned the mutant black and yellow uniforms. McAvoy brings real heart to the role of Xavier and Fassbender is edgy enough to really make us believe the rage that fuels Magneto. Of the teen mutants only Jennifer Lawrence, as the shape shifting blue lady Mystique and Nicholas Hoult as Beast do something interesting with their characters, even though Beast’s mask looks like a dollar store purchase. The others are underdeveloped embryonic characters that provide some color but not much else to the story. Hopefully if any of them come back they’ll do more than spit fire or flutter insect wings.
Stealing the show is Kevin Bacon as the power hungry Sebastian Shaw. Trying to take over the world is serious business, but that doesn’t stop Bacon from having some serious fun with the role.
“X-Men: First Class” is a welcome addition to the “X-Men” movie series and a great example of how big blockbuster entertainment can entertain the eye (thanks January Jones and Jennifer Lawrence) and the mind.
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