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X-Men: First Class
(2011)

I expected to enjoy this, but I was surprised by just how much; a second viewing did nothing to lessen that, and this is easily the best X-Men film. Crucially, it really doesn't miss the previously pervading presence of Wolverine. Part of that is undoubtedly due to the vitality that McAvoy and (particularly) Fassbender bring to Professor X and Magneto. Singer's X-Men unfortunately relegated the characters to luvvie thesps trading intellectual ripostes; here there's real emotion underlying the action (and, really, McKellen always seemed like an old man playing a superhero; Stewart was always an ageless baldy).

The first 45 minutes is flawless as an introduction to the characters, and Fassbender is really the star. But mention should be made of the delectable Jennifer Lawrence, whose conflicting loyalties form the bridge between the disparate views of Xavier and Erik. Of the other actors, I'd definitely salute Nicholas Hoult as Frank McCoy, a rare example of a child actor who has seemingly effortlessly made the transition to rather superior adult thesp. Of the rest, Kevin Bacon enjoys being the big nasty, January Jones is well-cast as the remote, glacial crystal chick and Jason Flemyng (one of Vaughn's lucky charms) is quietly amplified as Azazel.

Much has been made of the Cuban Missile Crisis setting, but that's really a backdrop to the involving emotional drama (and it is involving). As to the too-much-too-soon climax, it does rather give you a don't-need-another-film link to X-Men, but I'd much rather see McAvoy and Fassbender at war for a couple of sequel/prequels. Even better, sign up Fassbender as the next Bond now, and get Vaughn to direct; the latter's come on in leaps and bounds since Layer Cake and I really wouldn't have been aware of the immensely tight production time on this if I didn't know about it. Kudos all round.

****1/2

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