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In Association with
X-Men: First Class (2011)
Director: Matthew Vaughn

review by J.C. Hartley

These reboots are becoming very confusing. Maybe they just occur on parallel Earth designated 31645, or somewhere. Spider-Man is rebooting, so that we have to sit through the biting and the guilt and the angst all over again; plus some mystery stuff about Peter Parker's parents, probably the revelation that they were agents of SHIELD, to bring the film inline with the rest of the great surge towards 'The Avengers'.

Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that the Marvel universe is a joined-up universe, it's what attracted me to the comics in the first place, before the ultra-violence, the retro-fitting, and the fact that they never had the courage to kill someone off and leave them dead, turned me away. But the biting and the guilt and the angst, please no, not again. Then when Christopher Nolan says farewell to Batman there will be another reboot, and the shooting and the guilt and the bats all over again. And Superman, and now Charlie's Angels, it's time to say stop. Can we just have a story that says here's a load of super-types that can do stuff, if you want to know any more look 'em up.

Some purists are unhappy with this film because it isn't really a prequel although it starts with footage of Erik Lensherr in a concentration camp like the first X-Men film. When I was a boy, Erik Lensherr was named Magnus Markoff, I'm sure of it. Anyway, it's a reboot and apart from super-strength as standard mutants age slowly, and anyway everything that happened in the Marvel universe only happened ten years ago, apparently. But here we are in the 1960s, and Scott Summers' younger brother now seems to be his older brother and there's some other stuff, but that's not important right now unless you're one of those aforesaid picky purists.

The young Erik manifests mutant powers and, in order to confirm it, the Nazi Doctor Schmidt has his mother shot, to stimulate the powers through trauma, and then laughs hysterically when they do, and then just seems to forget about him. The older Erik (Michael Fassbender) becomes a Nazi-hunter in a sequence director Matthew Vaughn has acknowledged borrows from the Bond movies. Using stolen Nazi gold (Goldfinger), Erik accosts a Swiss banker (The World Is Not Enough) before tracking down and killing Nazis hiding out in South America.

Meanwhile, the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) - that's Exavier, what's up with saying Zavier? - has teamed up with a blue kid he found in his kitchen, and ultimately becomes the acknowledged authority on mutants. He's a telepath, and you can tell because he puts his forefinger against his brow when he's doing it, and the blue kid Raven (Jennifer Lawrence is the heart of the picture) is a shape-shifter.

The pair are recruited by the CIA's Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) because of the threat from the Hellfire Club, a gang of mutants led by the former Dr Schmidt, now calling himself Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), and comprising the bosomy telepath Emma Frost (January Jones), demonic teleporter Azazel (Vaughn's talisman Jason Flemyng), and sharp-suited tornado-wielder Riptide. The Hellfire Club plan on escalating world tension until a nuclear war leaves the planet free for homo superior. Spying on Shaw on his yacht Xavier meets Lensherr who is there to kill the man who killed his mother. Lensherr is recruited by Xavier and the pair build mutant-detecting device Cerebro in order to assemble a team of their own.

The film incorporates real events, crucially the Cuban missile crisis, as well as the usual getting-to-control-your-powers shtick common to superhero stories from the dawn of time. The story has a nice pace to it; it's witty and watchable, although Bacon's Shaw is a bit low-key as a villain. Trouble is, the barnstorming finale all seems a bit low-key too, despite the fate of the world hanging in the balance and our heroes' lives in danger. The highlight for me was seeing Magneto in his proper red costume rather than the travesty Ian McKellen wore, although afterwards I did wonder if anyone would wear anything so daft.

X-Men: First Class - poster

X-Men: First Class - foreign poster

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