It's hard to get excited by comic book adaptations these days. There are so many, often with limited imagination. After the first two movies, the X-Men franchise grew pedestrian with its third installment and the Wolverine movie. Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class, however, kicks it back to life and gives it some pop, in part by placing the action in the 1960s, the era of the Cold War and James Bond.
First Class begins like the first film, with a young Erik Lehnsherr in a Nazi concentration camp, but it expands the story, showing the youth who will become Magneto, who can control metals, under the thrall of a sadist first known as Dr. Schmidt (Kevin Bacon).
We then meet the young Charles in New York as he takes in a stray mutant named Raven. The scene then moves to 1962 and the Cuban missile crisis. As we know from the earlier movies set later, Charles becomes Professor X, the leader of the X-men with super mental powers, and Raven the body-shifter Mystique.
Here, the adult Erik (Michael Fassbender) will uneasily ally with future nemesis Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), and Raven (Louisville native Jennifer Lawrence) will find herself with shifting loyalties. The enemy is Schmidt, who is now Sebastian Shaw, a villain who could have come out of a Bond film, complete with a sexy partner in Emma Frost (January Jones). He wants to use the mutants' powers to his own end. Trying to thwart him is FBI agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne).
Director Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Layer Cake) retains the serious themes of being an outsider and prejudice that Bryan Singer brought to the first two films, but the new flick has a lighter, more fun tone, more in tune to the swinging times that are about to begin.
It isn't the deepest comic-book adaptation, but it doesn't bludgeon you with special effects and mythology, and like the old Bond films, it's entertaining without being campy, and that's a plus.
X-Men: First Class retails for $29.98 or $39.99 Blu-ray.