Opting for a top-to-bottom reboot after Brett Ratner’s disastrous X3: The Last Stand and the even more dreadful X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Marvel Comics’ most allegory-friendly franchise sets the wayback machine to the shagadelic early 60s for this diverting, if pointless, prequel.
A surprisingly credible James McAvoy plays the young psychic Professor Charles Xavier, while perpetual up-and-comer Michael Fassbender seals his fate as a natural-born movie star, filling in for Ian McKellan as embittered Holocaust survivor Erik Lehnsheer, aka Magneto. Cobbled together from several different scripts and rushed into production on a jaw-droppingly truncated 10 month schedule, X-Men: First Class is a chintzy rush-job that has a few moments just good enough to make you wish it was better.
Directed by Kick-Ass helmer Matthew Vaughn with his camera set to maximum leer, the movie revels in Playboy club fashions, scantily clad co-eds, and in Fassbender finds one of the only straight guys who can look cool in a turtleneck. Recruited by a CIA agent with a thing for lacy lingerie (Rose Byrne,) Professor X’s ragtag band of misunderstood mutant adolescents find themselves knee deep in the Cuban missile crisis, saving the world not just from nuclear annihilation, but also Kevin Bacon’s dazzling array of sinister ascots.
Bacon is having a ball as a Josef Mengele-ish mutant villain. Indeed, the best parts of the movie play like a slightly tasteless, superpowered Bond picture, with Fassbender’s proto-Magneto hunting down Nazi war criminals in exotic locations and overly mod art-designed lairs. Less successful are the new gang of kids recruited by Xavier, with Winter’s Bone star Jennifer Lawrence painted blue and leading a pack of subpar performances and awkward stabs at social relevance. “You didn’t ask, so I didn’t tell,” says one closeted hero. “I’m mutant and proud,” Lawrence announces ad infinitum. Yes, but will she say it loud?
Suffering from a severe case of overcrowding, First Class doesn’t even get around to the obligatory training montage until over 90 minutes in. Much like Bryan Singer’s original X-Men, by the time everyone is done explaining their origins, it’s already time for the climactic action scene.
On the upside, Mad Men’s January Jones is never not in her underwear. On the downside, she boasts the most amaturish line readings of any actress outside of the adult film industry. Overall, a mixed bag.