'X-Men: First Class' full of energy

JIM SLOTEK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:15 AM ET

Usually the term "reboot" is simply a Hollywood hipster synonym for "remake," as in The Incredible Hulk.

I'm happy to report that Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class, which is more accurately a prequel, is also a reboot in the same sense J.J. Abrams' Star Trek was.

That is to say, it gives us fresh faces and even -- by dint of its '60s period location -- fresh characters (at least to people who only know the X-Men through the movies). Even the ones we know are not required to ape the mannerisms of the Patrick Stewarts and Ian McKellens who strode the earth through three previous X-Men films.

And like Abrams' Star Trek, it even chooses to ignore parts of its own previously filmed history if they interfere with the narrative -- the kind of crimes-against-the-canon that makes some genre nerds nuts, but which I applaud.

That plus the energetic and stylish direction of Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass), some humour and an actually quite clever plot that weaves the emergence of super-powered mutants into the Cold War intrigue of the Cuban Missile Crisis, makes this a fourth movie that feels like a first.

The emotional core, always hinted at in the other X-Men films, is the friendship between the leaders of the good and evil mutants: Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender). We'd previously seen childhood flashbacks of young Erik, who can manipulate metal on a monumental scale, in a Second World War concentration camp in Poland. First Class opens with an elaboration of that story, and a Mengele-like doctor (Kevin Bacon) who sees mutation as the Nazi Superman theory in overdrive.

We also meet the spoiled boy-genius Xavier, who lives in his Westchester, NY, manse, and goes on to Oxford accompanied by his adopted sister, a changeling named Raven, aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). There, he becomes a genetic superstar, and hilariously -- almost like Austin Powers -- uses his academic prowess for seduction purposes (twice using the line, "that is a groovy mutation" when commenting on a woman's hair colour or eyes a minor anachronism in 1962).

Bacon's character, now super-powered himself and bearing the anglicized name of Sebastian Shaw, is the real villain of the piece, recruiting alienated young mutants to inherit a world that will be left to them after a nuclear holocaust destroys "inferior" humanity. Fassbender (Hunger) does a terrific job of stewing between a desire for revenge and sharing his erstwhile tormenter's view of humans as natural enemies.

In the meantime, however, he and Xavier, and a handful of CIA-recruited young people (including the characters who come to be known as Banshee, Havoc and Beast) are lining up to thwart Shaw's manipulation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a plot twist that fits seamlessly enough into the actual historical details.

It's a lot of plot-points, neatly balanced, with one eye on the dynamics that have propelled this comic book franchise since the '60s, and another on a brand new course for it.

This film is rated PG

jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos