X-Men: First Class
Direction: Matthew Vaughn
Actors: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender
The question is: Does the fifth film in the Marvel Comics superheroes franchise deliver on its title suffix? While there's no denying the display of digital razzle-dazzle, it's also apparent that after a point, the in-your-face pyrotechnics begin to pall and a feeling of déjà vu sets in.
Obviously inspired by the success of the recent Batman Begins and Star Trek prequels, X-Men: First Class looks at the early days of the gang of troubled mutants led by a benevolent young telepath (McAvoy) and his future arch-adversary (Fassbender). Inevitably, in this origin tale, hardware wins over heart.
After a prologue set in a Nazi concentration camp in Poland during World War II, the action moves to the early 1960s. Intent on vanquishing yet another super-villain (Kevin Bacon, icily menacing in his first major role since Mystic River back in 2003), the saviour horde must also avert the Cuban Missile Crisis.
It goes without saying that habitués from both mutant factions fetch up to enliven the proceedings. They include a comely shape-shifter (Jennifer Lawrence), a covert CIA agent (Rose Byrne), not to mention a teleporting nutzoid (Jason Flemying) and a scantily-clad temptress (January Jones).
The fresh-faced actors for the most part suit their characters, but otherwise barely make an impression. There's a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo from Hugh Jackman who portrayed the metal-clawed Wolverine in all the first four X-movies.
The two-plus-hours retro-fantasy zips across several locations ranging from Las Vegas to the English countryside before the disparate strands of the story are brought together in an overly cartoonish wrap up.
British producer-turned-director Vaughn (Kick-Ass) seems to be at the mercy of the visual-effects wizards whose work is really the film's raison d'etre. The production design and outré costumes are among the other assets.
Neither exhilarating nor entirely dismissible, X-Men: First Class is strictly for the techno-thrill geeks.