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Hollywood Product: X-Men: First Class 

Director Matthew Vaughn rejuvenates the franchise and presents one of the summer's best films

From left: Erik (Michael Fassbender), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Charles (James McAvoy), Moira (Rose Byrne), Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), and Havok (Lucas Till)

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From left: Erik (Michael Fassbender), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Charles (James McAvoy), Moira (Rose Byrne), Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), and Havok (Lucas Till)

GENRE: Superhero epic with retro sizzle

THE PITCH: In 1962, mutation researcher Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and vengeful Holocaust survivor Eric Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) unite to find other super-powered individuals and thwart the scheming Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) from provoking a nuclear war. Any resemblance to super-characters played by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen is totally the point.

MAGNETIC MONEY SHOTS: Young Erik trashes a Nazi experimentation lab. Grown-up Erik uses metal teeth fillings to get information from a secretive banker. Erik uses anchor chains like giant tentacles against Sebastian's huge private yacht. Erik demonstrates (and prevents) military destruction on a beach when the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly becomes the Cuban Mutant Crisis. Maybe the best is young Erik crumpling Nazi helmets; You wish he would say, "I am crushing your head!"

BEST LINE: With Oxford University co-eds, Charles uses the pick-up line, "It's a mutation — a very groovy mutation."

CORNIEST LINE: "I always believed I couldn't be the only one in the world, the only person who was ... different." About a zillion Marvel Comics from the 1960s contains that basic line, with the same emphasis on "different."

MOST BADASS LINE: Eric reads the words "Blood and honor" on an ex-Nazi's knife and asks, "What would you like to shed first?"

BEST LINE I MADE UP: Sebastian's psychic right-hand woman Emma Frost ("Mad Men's" January Jones) can turn her body into diamond, but she neglects to declare, "I'm my own best friend."

FLESH FACTOR: In Vegas, Sebastian's Hellfire Club swarms with hotties in lingerie, a la the 1960s Playboy Club. Jones shows off cleavage whether flirting with generals or piloting submarines. Young Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) eventually opts to keep her scaly blue skin unconcealed. At one point, Fassbender dons a skintight wet suit to sneak up on Sebastian.

FASHION STATEMENTS: When Emma Frost isn't in her white undies, she wears a white jumpsuit like Diana Rigg from Avengers. A telepathy-proof helmet provides a big plot point while foreshadowing the future films. The good guys don black-and-yellow leather jumpsuits faithful to the comic book's debut in 1963. Fassbender looks best in khakis and a white golf shirt.

MUTANT PRIDE: Characters use the phrase "mutant and proud" so often, you expect them to break into a remix of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," only with prehensile toes and dragonfly wings.

CAMEOS: I won't spoil the walk-ons and references to the X-Men movie franchise, which include possibly the year's best joke. X-Men: First Class proves surprisingly generous with great character actors in tiny roles, including Ray Wise, James Remar and Michael Ironside. JFK even makes some cameos thanks to effective use of his speeches.

HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: Charles helps Erik temper his rage to move a giant radar dish — but what's it doing spoiling the view in Westchester?

BETTER THE REST? Yes, except for the terrific X2: X-Men United — and it might even be better than that. Compared to the overwrought sloppiness of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, director Matthew Vaughn rejuvenates the franchise, gracefully juggles countless roles and locations and totally digs the go-go boots and cover derring-do of the James Bond/Matt Helm-era movies.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A prequel/reboot easily on a par with J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, X-Men: First Class grounds the big civil rights-style metaphors in the relationships between the characters, with special credit to the performances of McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence. Some of the jokes and special effects go a little over the top, but X-Men: First Class doesn't need Storm to steal the thunder of this summer's better-hyped blockbusters.

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X-Men: First Class
Rated PG-13 · 131 min. · 2011
Staff Rating:
Official Site: www.x-menfirstclassmovie.com
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writer: Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz
Producer: Gregory Goodman and Simon Kinberg
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Platt and Kevin Bacon

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