Review: X-Men: First Class

The art of the prequel is fundamentally attempting to fill a gap that nobody needed filling. At the start of the century BryanSinger made two X-Men features that are among the best comic book movies yet made. It all went a bit awry with the third one, so for the fourth the way forward is to go backwards.

If you doubted the wisdom of this, Matthew (Kick-Ass) Vaughan's film on how it all started back in 1963 will make you a believer.

This is not intended as a begin-again reboot. If this film is successful a prequel trilogy is intended with the new cast (because a prequel trilogy turned out so well last time it was tried). It even begins in exactly the same place that Singer opened the original X-Men film – in a Nazi concentration camp with a young boy discovering his mag-netic mutant ability.

The secret of the film is that it restores all the virtues of the original two films: a good ensemble cast, in a character driven piece where story was as important as action. It's not just an adventure but a sweeping mutant family saga.

The film's chief glory is a great cast. Not a cast full of big names but a cast packed with performers that are at that perfect point between breakthrough and establishment, performers still bursting to show what they can do.

James McAvoy gives a perfect swotty righteousness to the young, mobile and hirsute Professor Xavier, while Michael Fassbender is tremendous as Magneto.

Even the older hands are on top form: Kevin Bacon makes for a fantastic villain.

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The story centres on the Cuban missiles crisis and director Vaughan makes the most of the sixties setting – at times it resembles a serious Austin Powers movie. It more than the just the trappings though, the film seems imbued with that sixties spirit of optimism, the hope that reason and brightly coloured uniforms were the way forward.

First Class shows that great comic book films don't need to be dark and brooding – fun, sexy and heartfelt can work just as well.

X-Men: First Class (12A)

Director: Matthew Vaughan

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, January Jones, Rose Byrne.

Length: 135 mins