“Are you sure we can't shave your head?” “Don't touch the hair,” says an urgent yet wry Professor X (James McAvoy). Such knowing scenes, and there are many in Matthew Vaughn's highly enjoyable addition to the X-Men franchise, sets the tone for what follows. While First Class won't set the world alight, it re-injects some light and emotion after the stultifying Origins: Wolverine. This is where it all began, how X met Magneto (spunky Michael Fassbender), what forces shaped them and in turn, what binds them together. It explains the helmet, the wheelchair and the academy as well as the articles of faith that form the backbone of the X-Men story. It has long held universal appeal, however the homosexual subtext of caution, acceptance – 'Mutant And Proud' – come centre stage.

First Class turns on the Cuban missile crisis, itself the product of mutant rage. A spirited Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon in delicious Bond-villain form) is pushing American and Soviet forces beyond the brink of nuclear war to eliminate humankind. Ideological opponents X and Magneto engage to stop him, but it's not that simple. For one thing, the extraordinarily powerful former Nazi mentored Magneto's 'talent', after he'd killed his mother. That confliction aside, and problematically for X, in his heart Magneto agrees with Shaw. Yet that niggling problem about his mother remains, and thus the stage is set for a battle of religious proportions.

Fortunately, Vaughn is up to the job, staging scorching action scene after action scene with considerable skill, while tempering the X-Men's cause with sufficient and probable motive. He's not inclined to use the brake much, and as a result supporting characters are left with little to do than provide another blast of special effects. It's a job they do well, and it's not like First Class ever aims for Shakespearean grandeur. It may not reach the benchmark set by Bryan Singer, but it comes close: a polished, clever and exciting superhero movie. And you don't get to say that very often.

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James McAvoy
Michael Fassbender
Kevin Bacon
Jennifer Lawrence

Matthew Vaughn

Ashley Miller


M / 132 minutes

June 2, 2011
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moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks