(director/writer: Matthew Vaughn; screenwriters: Ashley Edward Miller/Zack Stentz/Jane Goldman/based on a story by Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer and the Marvel Comics series by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; cinematographer: John Mathieson; editors: Lee Smith/Eddie Hamilton; music: Henry Jackman; cast: James McAvoy (Charles Xavier/Professor X), Michael Fassbender (Erik Lehnsherr), Kevin Bacon (Sebastian Shaw/Dr. Schmidt), Rose Byrne (Moira MacTaggert), January Jones (Emma Frost), Oliver Platt (MIB), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven/Mystique), Nicholas Hoult (Hank/Beast), Zoe Kravitz (Angel Salvadore/Wings), Jason Flemyng (Azazel), Lucas Till (Alex Summers/Havok), Caleb Landry Jones (Cassidy/Banshee), Alex Gonzalez (Janos Questad/Riptide), Edi Gathegi (Darwin Armondo), Glenn Morshower (Colonel Hendry), Bill Milner (a young Erik Lehnsherr at Auschwitz); Runtime: 130; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Lauren Shuler Donner/Simon Kinberg/Gregory Goodman/Bryan Singer; 20th Century Fox; 2011)

Has its eye-popping spectacle moments.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Brit filmmaker Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”/”Stardust”/”Layer Cake”), a new director for the X-Men franchise, slickly directs the superhero comic book summer blockbuster about mutants choosing sides during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The pic also tells of the origins of Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and how Professor X (James McAvoy) established in his Westchester County mansion a school for the gifted mutants and how the friendship from the 1960s dissolved between Magneto and Professor X (then known as Erik Lehnsherr and Charles Xavier), over what role the mutants should play in the world. It’s based on a story by Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer and the Marvel Comics series by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and is written by a team of writers and the director. This prequel is the fifth film in the franchise, and the lively tale, with a lot of James Bond in it, has its eye-popping spectacle moments amid all its nonsense, perversities, plot holes, tacky special effects, shout outs for tolerance and bogus lessons in history (mutants saved the world from the evil intentions of the Kevin Bacon character to cause a nuclear conflict at the Bay of Pigs between superpowers USSR and USA and thereby to afterwards rule the world). It’s hoped by the studio that Kick-Ass director Vaughn will energize the dying franchise enough to give it a good box office in this more lighthearted production than the recent more serious X-Men fan-boy Singer ones.

Holocaust survivor Erik Lehnsherr, soon to be known as Magneto, was a child when he watched his mother executed by the energy-sapping evil researcher mad scientist mutant Nazi Dr. Schmidt (Kevin Bacon) in a 1944 concentration camp (Auschwitz)in Poland. In 1962, the adult Erik, trained to use his telepathic powers by the smarmy doctor, vows revenge as he hunts down his globe-hopping nemesis now called Sebastian Shaw. The teeth-clenching Erik also vows to make humans pay for their mistreatment of freaks. Meanwhile the CIA recruits fledgling Oxford University genetics professor Charles Xavier, the future Professor X, to find Shaw by using his telepathic powers. Charles befriends Erik to help him in the mission.

The gist of the pic follows a group of young mutants recruited by Erik and Charles for the CIA, under the auspices of a friendly CIA supervisor of the MIB (Oliver Platt), to be fighters for America’s cause in the Cold War even though they are looked upon as freaks and not accepted into American society. This discrimination allows for the violated second-class mutants to glibly use many slogans from past and present civil-rights struggles (like shape-shifter Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Xavier’s adopted sister, shouting out the black power slogan ‘I’m a mutant and proud,’ the closet mutant brilliant scientist turned Beast (Nicholas Hoult) uttering ‘They didn’t ask and I didn’t tell’when asked why he disguised that he was mutant when working for the CIA and Erik, the mutant power above all else advocate, fiercely stating ‘Never Again’).

There are too many mutants to keep track of, so we only know them when they perform their unusual skill. Which leaves the pic looking cartoonish, as it’s filled with FX effects and crowd-pleasing battles between the superhero mutants and offers little that isn’t your typical mindless thriller blockbuster material. It’s as forgettable as the other episodes for all those not fans of the comic book and for those with only so much tolerance for such foolishness. But it’s nevertheless enjoyable hokum.

Rose Byrne is miscast as Xavier’s non-mutant CIA love interest Moira McTaggart (looks as if she’s in the wrong pic), while January Jones as the diamond-queen bosomy mutant assistant of Shaw, possessing immense telepathic ability with an optional asset of turning into an indestructible diamond veneer, gives a watchable performance. Hugh Jackman has a fuck you scene stealing cameo, which got the film’s biggest laugh with my audience.

X-Men: First Class