It figures a prequel as giddy as “X-Men: First Class” would be kind of implausible, but at least it’s courteous enough to let audiences have a good time with it. It’s more self-important than it should be, of course, though it’s bound to appeal to a demographic that likens comic books to high art. For everybody else, there’s absorbing adventure with characters who are fantastic in every sense of the word, including a blue babe who can imitate anyone’s physical attributes, a teleporting demon with probably the most extreme case of sunburn in history and a clairvoyant blonde who’s also a diamond. It’s not a good idea to insult the guy with blue fur, by the way.
Although we get back stories for almost all of these characters, the way the movie introduces Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is so intense that it earns him his own plot thread. As a child, the Germans detain him in a concentration camp where he encounters Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a Nazi who believes Erik might possess some sort of superpower. Indeed, he’s able to control metal with his mind, an ability not even he can explain. Sebastian works on developing it – an act which, as fans are already aware, produces one of the most enduring characters in the franchise.
By 1963, Erik’s an adult bent on bringing the Nazi who changed his life to justice. In the interim, Sebastian’s hired Azazel (Jason Flemyng) and Emma Frost (January Jones), the demon and the blonde we got to earlier. The budget’s even big enough for Janos Quested (Álex González), whose power to command the wind is less dramatic than everyone else’s, but just as deadly.
During an attempt to exact his revenge, Erik happens upon Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), an academic with extrasensory perception who’s friends with Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), the great pretender. Given that he’s also working with CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) to capture Sebastian, Charles invites Erik to team up with them. Even with the help of Dr. Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), however, their crew looks a bit small for one that’s up against a guy out to obliterate human life.
Charles remains confident, though, drawing inspiration from the Marines by looking for a few good X-Men – among them, a cutie (Zoë Kravitz) with wings, a lightweight (Caleb Landry Jones) with curiously strong vocal cords, an evolutionist (Edi Gathegi) who can adapt to any environment and a baby face (Lucas Till) who gives “firepower” new meaning. There’s also a fifth candidate who winds up joining decades after Charles approaches him, but passes in the meantime with a, uh, cutting remark.
That’s as hard to take seriously as the image of Erik positioning himself on the landing gear of a jet without blowing away, or almost crushing Emma’s diamond neck by wrapping metal around it. (It’s difficult enough to break actual diamonds.) As a matter of fact, the movie even hijacks a few features from earlier Hollywood fantasies, like the war room in “Dr. Strangelove” and – if only by accident – the DNA daffiness of “The Nutty Professor.” As Bacon’s exquisite performance as Sebastian makes clear, though, action flicks like this one achieve depths that still allow them to be a little silly. Just go with it.
This article was originally published on AllMediaNY.com