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Movie review: 'X-Men: First Class,' 3 stars

January Jones in "X-Men: First Class"

January Jones in "X-Men: First Class" Credit: handout

X-Men: First Class
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Rose Byrne
Rated PG-13

The genetic mutations of the X-Men know no boundaries: Some read minds, one has wings and spits fireballs, another shoots laser hula hoops, another transforms into tornados. It’s a pretty ridiculous, pointlessly diverse potpourri of superpowers. Yet if you can forgive this element of absurdity, “X-Men: First Class” is one entertaining prequel.

As he proved in “Layer Cake” and “Kick-Ass,” director Matthew Vaughn knows how to energize a movie while keeping it taut and smart. His pacing is brisk without cutting corners, and he doesn’t pad the story with exposition filler.

“X-Men: First Class” relates the tale of how Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto (played by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in the first three movies) came to be leaders in the mutant community — first as friends, then as foes. It’s the height of the Cold War, and a young Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) have teamed with the CIA to recruit mutants from around the world.

At first their headquarters feels like Mutants Anonymous, a place where the strange breed can commiserate about being different. Duty calls, though, as when an ex-Nazi mutant (Kevin Bacon) hatches his plan for world domination via nuclear war.

McAvoy and Fassbender make a compelling pair. They’re both intense, Fassbender in his brooding way and McAvoy as an idealist. Jennifer Lawrence, as a young Mystique, and Bacon also deserve props.

“X-Men: First Class” is dogged by a certain silliness — most of these superpowers seem like they were devised by a kindergartner. Still, it’s a lot of fun, and the respectable cast takes the guilt out of this guilty pleasure.

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