Just when you wanted to lighten the memory load on your personal hard drive by deleting the X-Men franchise (yes, The Last Stand and Wolverine sucked that bad), along comes this primal blast of a prequel, a potent reminder of what jazzed us about Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men and the Marvel comics that spawned them. X-Men: First Class, the fifth in the series, is directed by fresh hand Matthew Vaughn, and as Kick-Ass proved, he’s a live wire. In this cheerfully perverse origin tale of Magneto, Professor X and their mutant team, Vaughn delivers a fireworks display of action, smarts and fun, plus a touch of class from actors who can really act.
James McAvoy as telepathic Professor X and Michael Fassbender as the metal-bending Magneto are both dynamite. They take roles created, respectively, by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen and give them an exuberant jolt of youth and flawed ambition. As Oxford brainiac Charles Xavier, McAvoy isn’t bald, in a wheelchair or a stuffy utopian. He has one eye on a hot CIA agent (Rose Byrne) and the other on creating a society where young mutants can harness their powers and coexist with humans. This doesn’t sit well with Fassbender’s Erik Lehnsherr, a Holocaust survivor and the future Magneto, who’d like to see humans heel to mutants. That kind of thing can put a kink in a friendship. Luckily, the boys unite against the film’s Dr. Evil, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon spewing hellfire). Set in 1962, at the height of the Cold War, the prequel dances to an irresistible James Bond vibe that Fassbender runs with in high style (Daniel Craig, watch your back). Did you know the X-Men played a key role in the Cuban Missile Crisis? You will now.
Trouble spots? Too many young mutants means that too few register. But Jennifer Lawrence, Katniss in the upcoming Hunger Games, defines bombshell as Raven, Xavier’s adoptive sister, who shape-shifts into the blue-skinned Mystique or anyone else she fancies. Catch her in Magneto’s bed – yowsa! Props to Nicholas Hoult for giving a deep-well gravity to the cerebral Hank McCoy even as he morphs into Beast. And January Jones spins her Betty Draper cool into diamond-hard ice shards as Emma Frost, Shaw’s accomplice. So who cares about plot holes and a few tacky effects? Go, mutants! You just made this summer movie the badass place to be.