X-Men: First Class is an intelligent, action-packed prequel that neatly ties into the events and the dynamics of the original movie trilogy. Most importantly, it provides the back-story for the legendary rivalry between Professor X and Magneto.

According to the new movie their relationship dates all the way back to the early Sixties, when they fight on the same side against Kevin Bacon’s super-evil mutant Sebastian Shaw, who attempts to start off a nuclear war between the United States and Russia so he can rid the world of the human race. James McAvoy does a fine job playing the morally unshakeable Charles Xavier, or the future Professor X. Even more impressive is Michael Fassbender as the strong, silent Erik Lehnsherr who will go on to become Magneto. Erik has an old axe to grind against Shaw, a former Nazi who murdered his mother in front of his eyes when he was a young boy.

To strengthen their side against Shaw, Charles and Erik round up and train a posse of young mutants who’re bound by their impressive skills and their outcast status. Unfortunately this talented cast of young superheroes-in-the-making is a tad overcrowded with some of the mutants getting lost in the shuffle. Those who register an impression however are Raven, the blue-skinned shape-shifter (played by Jennifer Lawrence) who will go on to become Mystique, and Hank, the nerdish tech-wiz with monkey feet (played by Nicholas Hoult), who literally turns into Beast when an experiment he performs on himself goes horribly wrong. Meanwhile, on his side Shaw has faithful icy blonde Emma Frost (played by Mad Men’s January Jones), who has telepathic powers that rival those of Charles.

The film works splendidly because it delivers thrilling action sequences without ever compromising on its characters’ integrities. And although there’s a little too much yak-yak on how the humans will never accept the mutants, even some of their sillier skills are fun to watch when they’re on display.

Director Matthew Vaughn delivers in-jokes and cameos to please the fanboys; yet he never loses grip on the smart script that wraps with Charles and Erik taking opposite sides. The film’s standout performance comes from Michael Fassbender who infuses into Erik both vulnerability and steely reserve, making him the most intriguing character in this adventure.

X-Men: First Class is that rare summer blockbuster that’s both smart and incredibly fun. So much fun, in fact, that you even go with the preposterous insinuation that the Cuban Missile Crisis was of an evil mutant’s doing!

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for X-Men: First Class. Despite it’s running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes, you will wish there was more!

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