(Matthew Vaughn, 2011)
Once it's settled down into a regulation - if fun - Super-Hero blockbuster with heroes and villains set on a collision course in the massive climax, X-Men: First Class is no better or worse than most of the films released in it's sub-genre over the last decade. There is too much going on, some terrible cgi effects,and some impressive visual spectacle, all of it crammed into a ten minute sequence. But it works, nevertheless, because the first act in particular is a witty, superbly paced and nicely realised piece of expositional storytelling and character creation which lays out the conflicts and sets the stakes for all that follows.
Casting is key; Michael Fassbender finally takes on a movie star role as Magneto-to-be Erik Lensher, and the early sequences of his pursuit of Nazi War Criminals across the globe consciously evoke Connery-era Bond while providing the biggest charge in the film. Much of that is down to Fassbender, whose cold fury and dark charm make Ian McKellan's portrayal of Magneto in the earlier X-Men films look shamefully theatrical and hollow. James McEvoy matches him as Xavier, working a different sort of charm but never less than funny and appealing, and they share some of the film's best scenes. They are surrounded by a strong ensemble, with Kevin Bacon and January Jones lending class to stock villain parts, Rose Byrne all furrowed-brow seriousness as an awed CIA agent, and Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult giving the mutant angst some emotional impact.
The script creaks in places, but the first hour is so hyper-charged and stuffed with characters, locations and action, and Vaughn's hand so confident in his approach, that it positively gallops along, never really pausing for breath. The teen mutants - the "first class" of the title - are a weakness, each of them seeming utterly contemporary in a film set in the 1960s, none of them given much personality beyond their powers. But despite that, this is an assured, thoroughly satisfying summer blockbuster, and vies with Brian Singer's X-Men 2 for the questionable accolade of best X-Men film.