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Mutant Brotherhood: Action packed morality lesson saves the world and the franchise in X-Men First Class

The new X-Men film premieres.


After the last two X-Men installments (X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine), I expected this new one to suck, but such is not exactly the case. X-Men First Class teeters on the brink of redemption. Then again, this movie is not excellent by any means - its flaws still outweigh its high points. At least it made me realize there's still hope.

XFC reveals the backstory of Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) before becoming mortal enemies as Professor X and Magneto, respectively, the antagonists who were played by old guys Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in the first films. The saga of Professor Xavier and Magneto begins in a Nazi concentration camp, intertwining their relationship and juxtaposing images of both their lives before they meet, sealing their all-too-bittersweet bond before the story jumps to 1963 in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

From there, First Class follows the two former allies as they lead a powerful team of mutants on a mission to save the planet from nuclear annihilation. The story moves right along with attempts by CIA agent Moira McTaggert (Bridesmaids' Rose Byrne) and CIA honcho (Oliver Platt) to use Xavier to battle ultra villain Sebastian Shaw (a criminally fun Kevin Bacon).

Then, there's Xavier's school for humans with superhuman abilities (aka mutants), the enrollment of which includes Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Alex/Havoc (Lucas Till), Sean/Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Armondo/Darwin (Edi Gathegi from Twilight fame) and Angel (Zoe Kravitz).

I was an original X-Men comic fan and coming in with this background both helps and hinders, as the rules for this franchise have changed. When Marvel Comics updated and modernized, those of us who were there from the start had to take a lot of high-tech nuances with a grain of salt. Sure, X-Men always included diversely cool mutants with special powers, be it telepathy or the ability to mess with the elements, but why in these newer versions do they end up looking like satanic demons, mosquito-winged fairies and blue werewolves? Plus, there was one red devil dude who looked like he belonged on a bottle of hot-sauce that could inexplicably disappear.

I'm curious about Jennifer Lawrence... was Winter's Bone a fluke? She continues to not impress in films like The Beaver and now this lackadaisical sub-par performance. It's nice, however, to see McAvoy use his real accent for a change. Fassbender's acting chops go all out, managing to convey his comic book pain. Landry Jones was interesting to watch, but only because he played the same weirdly quirky character he used in The Last Exorcism. Bacon exudes humorous pleasure in being evil. When he is absorbing nuclear power, it's a laugh riot. The rest of the mutant teens are just background filler geeks and there are far too many to care about or follow.

Under Director Matthew Vaughn's (Kick-Ass), the action scenes totally deliver. Vaughn knows his stuff, displaying a nice comic book, even if everything is taken far too seriously. The military scenes have a Dr. Strangelove look, but the groovy '60s backdrop just makes you feel like you're watching Austin Powers without the idiotic humor. The special effects, which have always been the saving grace of the X-men franchise, are set just above dazzle, but in the end, too much emphasis is put on being true to one's self. Acceptance is the theme and this concept is shoved into our faces. We get it - conquer the fear and hatred of others and you can excel with your mutant abilities and nerd emotions.

When all is said and done, XFC is good harmless fun, but I doubt I will live long enough to see this never-ending saga played out. At one point, Professor X tells Magneto to find the spot between rage and serenity. Now, if only I can obtain that sweet spot, I might start liking more movies.

X-Men First Class

2 1/2 Stars

Starring James McAvoy, Michael
Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Rated PG-13

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