X-Men: First Class (2011)
Falling somewhere between a sequel and a reboot, director Matthew Vaughn has managed to make X-Men: First Class a worthy entry in the X-Men franchise that successfully explores the origins of the characters as well as Christopher Nolan did with Batman Begins. X-Men: Last Stand painted the movie series into a difficult corner by killing off key characters. This movie provides a clever means of bypassing such issue by offering an origins story that subsequent leads in later sequels to an alternative timeline that redresses past mistakes. X-Men: First Class opens with a rather bleak and dark pre-credit sequence set in a WWII concentration camp that sets up the central protagonists and antagonist. It then maintains a steady pace and unlike other more recent bloated blockbusters, it's running time works in its favour and not against it.
Underpinning the film are the central performances of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. Both excel in their respective roles, and unusually for a genre piece, have been given a screenplay that doesn't merely paint them as black and white caricatures. The set pieces, especially the denouement set against the Cuban blockade, are impressive but do not overwhelm the story line. The plot device of setting the film in 1963, works surprisingly well and does not make the mistake of becoming some sort of sub Austin Powers cliché. There is even room for homages to such films as Goldfinger, The Odessa File and The Marathon Man, courtesy of the films Nazi sub-plot.
Despite its PG -13/12 rating, X-Men: First Class cunningly exploits as much adult material that the classification allows. The is a high emphasis on sexuality and some rather hard-edged action. I was amused to see the use of one major profanity, which was neatly designed to embellish a standout vignette featuring a clever cameo. Overall this is a superior mainstream comic adaptation that seems to knowingly cater for all viewing demographics. The film also fairs well due to the rather lacklustre previous entry in the franchise. It is hard not to be superior to the incredibly flat and by the numbers X-Men: Last Stand. The emphasis this time is on motivation, politics and revenge rather than a need to string together endless scenes of destruction.