Director: Matthew Vaughn
Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Kevin Bacon, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Till, Zoe Kravitz, Oliver Platt

In a summer jammed with superhero movies, only one could emerge as the season’s best, and the victor is X-Men: First Class. The rest of the comic book lot was altogether enjoyable, but the non-X films’ flaws are tough to forgive; Thor’s action pales in comparison to its riveting Shakespearean drama, Captain America: The First Avenger lacks memorable characters, and Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern, is, well, Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern; director Matthew Vaughn’s (Kick-Ass) mutant revival, on the other hand, is across-the-board strong, rocking with a spy movie script that rivals the best 007 flicks and benefitting from a pair of excellent leading men (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender).

Like each of its superhero flick peers this summer, X-Men: First Class is a structurally familiar origin story, tracing back to the early friendship days of Professor X (McAvoy) and Magneto (Fassbender); what sets it apart, though, is the script’s deft intermingling of Cold War intrigue, historical revisions, and ensemble character development, which Cowboys & Aliens, another high-concept comic book adaptation, could not accomplish. Hopefully the creative minds behind next year’s The Avengers have taken sufficient notes.