Another summer weekend, another bloated-budget franchise flick opening at the multiplex. This Friday, it's X-Men: First Class, the prequel to the popular X-Men trilogy. While most summer action-movies aren't even expected to deliver a coherent plot or affecting performances, critics are praising the work of director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass), the X-Men: First Class cast — lead by James McAvoy (Atonement) and Michael Fassbender (Jane Eyre) — and the story, which recounts the early days of the superhero mutants set against the backdrop of the 1960s and the Cold War. Is this a summer tent-pole movie done right for once? (Watch the movie's trailer.)

It's far better than it has to be: In a typical "summer of blah sequels and pointless remakes," X-Men: First Class shows that "even cash cows can moo intelligently," says Peter Howell in the Toronto Star. Director Matthew Vaughn brings a fresh vision to the stale franchise, and stars McAvoy and Fassbender — two of the "top young actors of their day" — elevate the sometimes-absurd material. This is an "all-too-rare thing": a "brainy blockbuster" that gets you thinking between explosions.
"X-Men: First Class: Brainy blockbuster"

And one of the best Marvel movies yet: "Packed with action, humor, retro 1960s style that's both campy and sexy, and a revisionist history lesson," this is "one of the best Marvel adaptations" ever, says David Germain for the Associated Press. Despite the large cast, the story is focused and coherent, and the art direction is a big-budget riff on the cheesy look of early Bond movies. If the studio can assemble the same talented team for the next installment, this new X-Men prequel trilogy could overshadow the original.
"Review: X-Men prequel is first-class affair"

Please. It's not that good: This "is perfectly fine summer folderol," says Ty Burr in the Boston Globe. It's "epic enough on its own terms" and "much more satisfying than the last X-Men offshoot," but unlikely to transform its genre or engage moviegoers who eschew "characters who spit gobs of flaming phlegm." Despite strong casting, the movie's treatment of actual historical events, namely the Holocaust and the Cuban missile crisis, is dubious, "disingenuous and occasionally unsettling."
"X-Men: First Class"