***1/2 (out of four)
Because even superheroes can have difficult, lonely upbringings, "First Class" charts the origin of Marvel warriors including Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy), Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who we know becomes a villain eventually but at this point is a good, revenge-seeking badass. Together they battle the former Nazi (Kevin Bacon) who killed Erik's mother and wants mutants to wipe out humanity before an extermination goes down the other way around.
The buzz: Yes, this is really a prequel to a prequel, since "First Class" arrives after the incredibly dull "X-Men Origins: Wolverine,"which followed the hollow "X-Men: The Last Stand." Thankfully a new director is onboard (Matthew Vaughn of the entertaining "Kick-Ass") to rejuvenate this franchise before it slips into an unbreakable streak of mediocrity.
The verdict: An excellent balance of fun and serious, high-stakes excitement, "First Class" gives origin stories a very good name. Fassbender's performance is absolute perfection; he's commanding at every moment, never more so than during a bar fight in Argentina that's loaded with so much tightly wound testosterone that just watching it will put hair on your knuckles. The movie would be a lot tighter if it stopped repeating its themes about identity, and the casting director must have been hammered when thinking January Jones can play menacing when she's never more than vapid. Otherwise the funny, ferocious "First Class" delivers the kind of "Wow" moments that, as Thor and Jack Sparrow meander, make you feel like summer at the movies has finally arrived.
Did you know? At one point, Erik crushes soldiers' helmets with the soldiers still in them. Which is also known as helmets doing the exact opposite of what they're supposed to do.
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