06/06/2011 08:27 am ET Updated Aug 06, 2011

Movie Review: X-Men: First Class

I've written several times about how bored I am with comic-book movies, how tired and formulaic the whole genre has become - and how discouraging it is to be facing a summer full of them.

Now, having said that, I'll admit that I was completely jazzed by X-Men: First Class, the best X-Men movie since the second one. Some would call this the fifth X-Men movie but I don't count the Wolverine monstrosity that seemed so completely unrelated to what Bryan Singer and, yes, Brett Ratner did in the first three.

Matthew Vaughan's prequel - another origin story - takes its starting point from the same moment as Bryan Singer's 2000 X-Men: the young Erik Lehnsherr in a Nazi concentration camp, being separated from his parents, unleashing his powers to control metal before being knocked unconscious.

But this film sticks with Erik, as he becomes an object of interest to a scientist in the camp (Kevin Bacon), who wants to learn about Erik's powers - and who shoots his mother in front of young Erik to get him to unleash them.

From there, we jump forward almost 20 years, to 1962. While a now-grown Erik (played by the compelling Michael Fassbender) travels the globe, searching for the man who killed his mother, another mutant, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), is finishing his degree at Oxford - and being recruited by a CIA agent, Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne), to help her find and fight a threat presented by a millionaire named Sebastian Shaw (the name Bacon's character has taken on).

Shaw, it seems, is in league with the Russians - and this is the height of the Cold War. McTaggart infiltrated Shaw's special Hellfire Club in Las Vegas and saw some mutant craziness involving Shaw, telepath Emma Frost (January Jones) and an American general - though no one at the CIA will believe her wild stories.

So she brings Xavier and his adopted sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), a mutant with shape-shifting abilities, to CIA headquarters and lets them do their thing. The CIA subsequently takes Xavier on the mission to capture Shaw and his crew; the mission fails but it brings Xavier together with Lehnsherr and the two become friends.

Though Shaw escapes, it's obvious that the CIA needs Xavier and his team of good mutants to help battle the bad mutants. When the CIA balks, one CIA executive (Oliver Platt) agrees to bring them aboard and gives them a facility at which to train.

Even as Xavier and Lehnsherr begin locating and recruiting other mutants to their mission, Shaw is putting his own plan in action: manipulating both the American and Russian governments into a confrontation that will trigger nuclear war and bring about the rise of the mutant elite. In other words, the Cuban missile crisis was engineered by an evil mutant.

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