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X-Men: First Class (2011): ***

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

It’s an open secret that I am unnaturally attracted to the 1960s Spy genre: James Bond, The Avengers, I Spy, Man from UNCLE, The Prisoner. For some reason or other I just can’t get enough; I love ‘em.

And now here is a movie couched in all of the trappings of 1960s Spy movies: Communists, the CIA, British Intelligence, the Cold War, hidden Nazi war criminals, etc. But also telepathy, teleportation, telekinesis, etc. As a mashup of all things 1960s Spy and all things X-Men, I enjoyed the movie thoroughly.

This is a very good origin movie in which a well-meaning but arrogant man essentially teaches an angry and proud man how to be his archenemy. Yes, I’m talking about Charles Xavier and Magneto. The two roles central to the film are played with wonderful nuance by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Just these two performances alone are worth watching this film. McAvoy’s young Xavier is a bit of an ass, using telepathy tricks to hit on women in bars and thinking he’s better than everybody else even while giving lip service to equality. Fassbender’s young Magneto is seething below the surface and does some horrible things while still remaining incredibly sympathetic.

Another great performance is Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, as the little woman who is caught between these two towering giants. Xavier represents for her safety and anonymity, but also a confining restraint and the vague sense of not being able to be who you truly are. In Magneto she sees someone who offers great adventure and a chance to come out of the shadows.

Kevin Bacon is surprisingly entertaining as an interesting interpretation of Sebastian Shaw. Unfortunately his supporting crew of evil mutants is much less interesting, especially January Jones’s unbelievably bland Emma Frost, who is one of the more dynamic and bombastic characters in the books.

Yes, there are whiz-bang action sequences and other mutant superheroes abound, but in the end the whole movie comes down to the conflict between these two men, one of whom can’t stop believing that he knows best, and one of whom just cannot let go of his anger and hurt.

So as a character study and as a throwback to 1960s Spy movies, I enjoyed X-Men First Class quite lot. It isn’t an amazing film by any means, and it does have its problems, but I thought it was an enjoyable little movie.

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