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X-Men: First Class

An excellent origins story is bogged down by too many mutants with no motivation

In the swinging 1960s, two mutant men set very different goals for themselves. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy: Gnomeo and Juliet) is hoping to use his telepathic abilities to score college co-eds — oh, and to unite other mutants, in hopes of celebrating the beauty of genetics. Shoah survivor Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender: Jane Eyre) is set on using his metal manipulating skills to hunt down and murder the Nazis who experimented on him and killed his mother.
    The men unite when they realize the target of Lehnsherr’s manhunt, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon: Elephant White), is also trying to bring about a war between the Soviets and America. Charles wants to join with the U.S. government, proving mutants are an asset to keeping the peace throughout the world. Erik just wants to kill the Nazi.
    They also use the government’s dime to build a collective of comely mutants. It’s not a hard process: Apparently the best way to spot a mutant is to look for the prettiest person in a crowd.
    Unfortunately, this first class isn’t taught much until the last act. While Erik and Charles gallivant through Soviet locales, these younger mutants are stuck in a comic-book version of the Real World. They talk, discuss cool nicknames and, like, totally bond.
    The problem with First Class is that director Matthew Vaughn keeps piling on characters. Because they’re not developed properly, Vaughn sets them to work doing odd jobs to move the plot forward. I’m still pondering how a stripper with angel wings learned how to pilot a submarine in the span of a day — maybe that’s a mutant power, too.
    If Vaughn had focused on the three characters he does develop — Erik, Charles and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence: The Beaver) — the film would have been much stronger.
    Raven, a naturally blue mutant with chameleon-like transformative powers, lived in fear of being discovered and ostracized. She shows her true form only to her adoptive brother, Charles, who took her in as a child.
    Charles is a bit more naive about the cruelty of man, believing that once regular people learn what special snowflakes mutants are, they will accept them with open arms. Erik, a Holocaust survivor, knows the depths of discrimination in humanity.
    This trio finding their way in the modern world would have been fascinating. Even a film that chronicled Erik tracking down and killing Nazis would have been pretty cool.
    The acting is hit or miss as well. Fassbender is the clear lead, with a cool, calculating performance that should fast-track him for stardom. As Emma Frost, January Jones (Unknown) is her typical vacant self, but she sure fills out a mini-skirt and bra. The 1960s’ setting seems to have less to do with the cultural climate than the fact that the model-material cast looks good in mod-style mini-dresses and turtlenecks.
    What Vaughn does with gusto, however is action, especially when Erik starts slinging around metal objects.

Fair Comic Action • PG-13 • 132 mins.