Director: Matthew Vaughn
Studio: Marvel Entertainment
Talk about jazzing up a tired-out franchise. X-Men: First Class does that and more. A satisfying, highly disposable gourmet summer popcorn epic set in the 1960s—or, at least in the 60s audiences know and love from James Bond movies and The Man From Uncle—the zippy, smart and highly entertaining prequel tells of the coming-together of the band of mutants that includes young telepathic, supremely logical brainiac Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), blue-skinned shape-shifter Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Holocaust-ravaged, conflicted Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who join up to destroy sadistic megalomaniac bent on world domination, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon).
Shaw’s diabolical scheme hinges on pushing Russia and the U.S. to the brink of nuclear annihilation and the film (from a cracking good screenplay credited to Jane Goldman) cleverly uses the near-cataclysmic Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 as a major climactic nail-biter. To thwart the campy villain’s doomsday scenario, the iconic, gorgeous freaks recruit other younger genetic misfits that include slew-footed, brilliant Hank McCoy, a.k.a. “Beast” (Nicholas Hoult) and Angel (Zoe Kravitz).
Director Matthew Vaughn, unlike the series’ best friend predecessor Bryan Singer, doesn’t mine the material for deeper political and sociological subtext. Still, the movie zings along with unexpected laughs, jolts of emotion, a couple of terrific cameos and, best of all, strong performances. Sure, the sight of the spectacular-looking, utterly blank iceberg blonde January Jones as Emma Frost vamping in her white-hot skivvies is a show-stopper, and some will dig Bacon's hamming it up as a Nazi monster. But the movie belongs to McAvoy and Fassbender. Witty, intelligent, soulful and complex actors, their chemistry and likability leap off the screen. And Fassbender demonstrates the catlike moves, charisma, dash and touch of sadism that could make him one hell of a 007. Meanwhile, with that role in the capable hands of Daniel Craig, Fassbender and the cast of X-Men: First Class are so watchable that they ought to find themselves busy for quite some time. So, when can we expect X-Men: The Second Coming?
About the Author
Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2011. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.