I haven't read a comic book, X-Men or otherwise, involving the character Moira MacTaggert since 1984, but I sure did remember her name when watching X-Men: First Class, simply adding to the fun. First Class is first and foremost, fun. Overtly stylized, the genre mash-up packs teen romance in with super-heroics and a nice touch of Matt Helm for that '60s flair. It takes popcorn self-knowledge and runs with it, for a consistently entertaining two hours.
Going way back to the 1940's, director Matthew Vaughn draws together the worlds of privilege and persecution, introducing us to a couple young dudes who will turn into Magneto and Professor X. 20 years later, as things begin to swing in London, Xavier takes steps to gather his mutant brethren for a little solidarity, while his magnetic buddy struggles with his own issues. Meanwhile slick psycho Sebastian Shaw is hoping to jump-start an all-out war that will leave only mutants standing. Mix the CIA in there, some Star Chamber-type folks, a little Soviet Russia, teen-kissing, and you've got yourself a heady mix that never slows down.
OK, so maybe the plot is needlessly convoluted, but the minute Kevin Bacon as Shaw sashays in wearing a white leisure suit, playing at nuclear brinksmanship like a game-show host, you get the signal to relax and let the fun begin. While Bacon cruises about in a luxury submarine, a group of young mutants assembles at Xavier's estate, mostly to bond as typical teens, before being sucked into something much bigger. Up and coming actors like Caleb Landry Jones (Banshee) and Nicholas Hoult (Beast) use their age and fresh faces to bring awkward cool to characters (at least in Banshee's case) that might otherwise seem simple and annoying.
James McAvoy is sort of a scary blend of Hugh Grant and Topher Grace as Xavier, yet shades his congenial British Bloke with enough concern to make his quest plausible, even if - in keeping with the light tone of the movie - he spends plenty of time acting like a smooth horn-dog. Nicely counterbalancing McAvoy's performance is Michael Fassbender as Eric Lehnsherr, AKA Magneto. Fassbender's face seems to hide dull pain behind a bland visage; he summons focused rage and world-weary sadness with a handsome poker face.
But Kevin Bacon is the guy for making the whole thing gel, using his genuine star power to collect a cadre of evil mutants and push everyone around. With natural, self-deprecating charm he sells the ridiculousness of the conceit, captaining that luxury submarine with just the right dose of camp, making him the most enjoyable super villain in the Marvel Universe.
As no one is pretending X-Men: First Class is anything but a clever popcorn flick, it runs rings around similar bloated affairs like the Transformers movies. Unpretentious performances create a human element that grounds the fun in reality without making the movie seem self-important or juvenile. There's plenty of gripping action, too, meaning this movie goes to the head of the Superhero Class, a great way to be Recommended.