X-Men: First Class lives up to its title. Smart and spectacular, it’s up there in the top rank of superhero films. With Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn at the helm, the sci-fi action series goes back to the beginning for an enthralling origins story that shows how the Marvel Comics mutants got to become X-Men.

As younger versions of the future Professor X and Magneto, James McAvoy‘s Charles Xavier is posh, confident and has a full head of hair, while Michael Fassbender’s concentration camp survivor Erik Lensherr is anguished and angry. Here, on the eve of 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis, they’re friends and allies, but as the Cold War heats up, pulling the mutants into the conflict, the seeds of their future enmity are sown.

For now, their mutual foe is Kevin Bacon’s former Nazi doctor turned mutant mastervillain, Sebastian Shaw, who is seeking to provoke nuclear war between America and Russia, aided by his icy, voluptuous right-hand woman, Emma Frost, played by Mad Men’s January Jones. Meanwhile, at the urging of Rose Byrne’s chipper CIA agent, Xavier sets about recruiting the first class of X-Men, including Nicholas Hoult’s geeky scientist Hank (the future Beast) and Xavier’s childhood friend Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).

That’s a lot of plot and a lot of characters for a single film to handle but Vaughn and his co-writers (including Kick-Ass screenwriter Jane Goldman) adeptly juggle the film’s separate narrative strands to create a well-paced adventure that delivers excitement, humour and pathos. First class indeed.

Released on DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 31st October from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

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