Getting hitched has no end of hitches in Paul Feig’s uproarious Bridesmaids, which shares some of the same comedy DNA as The Hangover but manages to transcend the dreaded “chick-flick” tag by being funny for everyone, regardless of gender.

In her first leading role, Kristen Wiig (who also wrote the script with Ann Mumolo) plays Annie, a thirtysomething singleton living a lonely life in the drab city of Milwaukee. Opening with an excruciatingly embarrassing sex scene between Annie and fatuous man-child Ted (Jon Hamm), Bridesmaids starts as it means to continue, being gloriously crude, unashamedly unsophisticated and cheerfully foul-mouthed.

The morning after the night before, Annie finds herself unceremoniously dumped as Ted declares himself uninterested in a relationship; uninterested in anything, in fact, other than himself, his car and his hair. Annie, a talented baker, once owned a cake shop but she went bust in the recession and is reduced to sharing a tiny house with insufferable British siblings (Rebel Wilson and Matt Lucas). She mans a counter at a cheap jewellery shop owned by the greasy Don (Michael Hitchcock), a job arranged by her mother (Jill Clayburgh), as a favour. With an uneven smile and a mostly cheerful disposition, Annie is frantically maintaining appearances but she knows she is nearing rock bottom; alone, broke, hopeless and desperate.

Her outlook darkens even further when her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces she’s marrying her wealthy boyfriend and asks Annie to stand for her as bridesmaid. No sooner has Annie begun making her pre-nuptial arrangements – engagement party, dress fitting, hen night – than she finds a rival in snooty Helen (Rose Byrne), the ice-queen wife of Lillian’s fiancĂ©’s boss who has seemingly usurped her position as Lillian’s best pal. While Helen busies herself taking over the arrangements, mostly by throwing money around, Annie struggles to remain in control of her colourful brood of fellow bridesmaids (Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper), her floundering personal life and her friendship with the bride-to-be.

Although men are firmly sidelined in this story, a potential romance appears when Annie meets expatriate traffic cop Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), a gentle, kind-hearted policeman who eats a few of her cup-cakes and takes her out on a date. A later scene, in which Annie does all she can to get his attention while driving alongside his parked patrol car, is one of the film’s funniest moments, with O’Dowd’s default confused expression acting as a hilarious counterpoint to Wiig’s exuberant mugging.

Given Hollywood’s popularity-seeking tendency to fetishise every clichĂ©d element of the matrimonial experience, Bridesmaids' central idea that tying the knot is more a collection of unnatural social obligations than a white-rose-tinted daydream is a real breath of fresh air. The fact that the film is funny – often side-splittingly so – is an added bonus. Feig’s success, achieved through lively improvisation, is in marrying outrageously over-the-top comedy set-pieces with far more subtle insights into female friendship, social mores and the hopelessness of sudden unemployment. Wiig’s bubbling insecurity keeps the frantic comedy grounded in a palpable reality, the laughs emerging naturally from the situations rather than feeling like a series of interconnected skits.

Bridesmaids doesn’t all work (and at a little over two hours, there’s a little too much of it) but the stuff that does works extremely well, with the razor-sharp ensemble mining a rich seam of crude belly-laughs. The standout from the cast is Melissa McCarthy as Megan, a short, round accumulation of base instincts who crashes though the story without a shred of self-consciousness and with a true vulgarian’s love of salty language.

X-Men: First Class

When your superhero franchise winds up in the clumsy hands of journeyman hack Brett Ratner, as X-Men: The Last Stand did in 2007, it’s time for an injection of new blood. Having made a sarcastic attempt at popping the superhero bubble in Kick Ass, British producer-turned-director Matthew Vaughan blows a bubble of his own with X-Men: First Class, the first in a proposed new trilogy of prequels designed to reboot a moribund franchise in much the same way as Casino Royale did for 007 and Christopher Nolan continues to do for Batman.

The story, from a long list of writers including original director Bryan Singer, Thor writers Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz, alongside Vaughan and his regular collaborator Jane Goldman, opens in the same place as Singer’s 2000 film did, at the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. There, a young Jewish boy named Erik is separated from his mother and uses his uncanny magnetic powers to crumple the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” iron gate. Brought before the Mengele-like camp doctor Schmidt (Kevin Bacon), Erik is made to demonstrate his extraordinary powers, with a life hanging in the balance. The tragic outcome of this episode instils in Erik (Michael Fassbender) a life-long thirst for revenge, using his boiling rage to amplify his extraordinary abilities.

At the same time, in America, a telepathic young man named Charles Xavier meets a strange, shape-shifting girl named Raven and adopts her as his sister. Now in their early-twenties and studying at Oxford, Charles (James McAvoy) and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) imagine a new world in which mutants can live openly, co-existing with the rest of mankind. When CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) discovers Charles’ research into genetic mutation, she recruits the pair to join a new agency, fighting a new threat. Dr Schmidt, now known as Sebastian Shaw, has formed a team of highly-powered mutants (including January Jones as ice-queen Emma Frost), with the simple aim of destroying the world. Smooth-talking Charles joins with the hot-headed Erik to stop Schmidt from enacting his plan, stymie the Soviets and force the humans to accept their mutant brethren.

Expanded beyond the super-powers and spandex of the comic-books, X-Men: First Class is composed of a rich blend of elements and influences that help to ground the story in its time and place. There are strong flavours of the well-tailored jet-setting of the early Bond films, the alternate histories of Euro-thrillers such as The Odessa File and the Cold War paranoia of Dr Strangelove (including an homage to Ken Adams’ elliptical War Room set). The story pivots on a moment that threatened the future of humanity, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. As the Americans and the Soviets face-off in the Caribbean Sea, we see John F Kennedy’s dream of optimism and prosperity curdle on a black and white television. There are correlations drawn with another dreamer, Martin Luther King, in the mutants’ determination to claim their own civil rights although this avenue is not explored as thoroughly as it might be.

It’s about the only trick that Vaughan misses. First Class is extraordinarily busy, driven by a tearaway plot. The story skips from scene to scene, circumnavigating the globe in a breathless rush, from Oxford to Las Vegas, Argentina to Geneva and Washington to a beach in Cuba. As Charles and Erik go about recruiting special individuals for their secret mutant army, the film becomes overstuffed with characters and incidents, friendships and enmities. Each of the recruits has a back-story that requires explaining and a special power that must be demonstrated. Vaughan makes heavy going of inspecting the troops, ticking their names off his list before collecting them in a glass-walled room and having them explain and demonstrate everything again. Just about the only omissions in the mutant parade are Shaw’s bad-guy henchmen, including Jason Flemyng as a crimson-faced demon, who are not given the courtesy of an introduction, let alone anything other than highly-choreographed fight-scenes to perform.

Just at the point where the film seems to have become a roll-call of special-effects derived introductions, Vaughan rouses his story for a stirring climax, as the might of the US Navy faces off against the Soviets along an imaginary line drawn in the ocean while, careening over their heads, telepathic mutants do battle between a futuristic jet-plane and a nuclear submarine. X-Men: First Class might be needlessly repetitive and awkwardly staged but it brims with youthful energy, giving a much-needed shot in the arm to a series that had become piteously anaemic.

The Hangover Part II

“It’s happened again” groans a sweat-drenched, filthy Bradley Cooper from the roof of a Bangkok hotel minutes into the inevitable follow-up to 2009s smash hit comedy. The Hangover Part II is more of the same - exactly the same - with an added dose of cultural stereotyping and even cruder humour.

Written by returning director Todd Phillips with Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong, the story picks up two years after the debacle that was Doug’s (Justin Bartha) Las Vegas wedding. This time around, it’s dentist Stu (Ed Helms) who is about to tie the knot with the lovely Lauren (Jamie Chung), in her parents’ home country of Thailand. Mindful of their little escapade in Vegas, Stu manfully attempts to turn a pancake lunch with Doug and best friend Phil (Bradley Cooper) into an official stag do. He is merely postponing the inevitable. Once they’ve arrive in Thailand, having collected half-baked hanger-on Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Lauren’s 16 year old brother Teddy (Mason Lee), the “wolf-pack” bring a six-pack of beach for a harmless pre-wedding toast.

Cut to Cooper’s bleary-eyed face as he wakes up face down on the unutterable floor of a fleapit Bangkok hotel, scattered with empty bottles, the bodies of his lifeless friends and a chain-smoking capuchin monkey. Quickly they discover they are missing someone. Teenage Teddy, an academic genius, musical prodigy and light of his father’s life, is nowhere to be found. With the help, or hindrance, of squealing Korean gangster Mr Chow (Ken Jeong), the boys must retrace their steps through the fleshpots of the steaming city to find the youngster and make it back to the beachside resort in time for Stu’s big day.

While this sequel will likely match the $500m worldwide box office of the original, Part Two proves that, in movies, lighting rarely strikes twice. Although the ensuing adventure is not without a handful of funny moments, far too much of the film seems happy enough to re-enact variations on its predecessor. The element of surprise, crucial to the success of the first film, is impossible to replicate, with the knock-on effect being a dearth of invention and comic energy. Punchlines are rarely funny the second time around and Phillips, on some level, seems to be aware of this, filling his running time with a couple of extended musical numbers and packing the soundtrack with an eclectic selection of jukebox hits, all played over interminable montages.

While Helms and Cooper provide the majority of the plotting, the funny bits are delegated to the Galifianakis as the unpredictable “stay-at-home-son” and Jeong, whose jive-talking, danger-loving criminal is given an expanded role. There is almost no place for women in this world of men behaving badly, with Chung and the returning Sasha Barrese reduced to pleasantries while Gillian Vigman as Phil’s wife Stephanie carries a fixed smile through which she doesn’t deliver a single word of dialogue. The mean streets of Bangkok provide a colourful, if predictably prurient, backdrop but even those flashes of gritty vibrancy are lost in the film’s deadening adherence to formula.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

This summer, the big studios will release a record 26 sequels to cinemas around the world, mechanical iterations of the same characters and situations that betray a fundamental lack of imagination and originality, yet all heralded as ‘blockbusters’. No longer confined to mere follower-uppers, 2011 will see five fifth sequels (Fast Five, Final Destination 5, Puss in Boots, X-Men First Class and Winnie the Pooh), two seventh sequels (The Muppets, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and the eighth Harry Potter movie, itself the concluding part of a film released last year. And they say Hollywood has run out of ideas…

At two hours and 15 minutes, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth film in Disney’s multi-billion dollar franchise, is the shortest in the series but it still feels endless; overproduced, overstuffed, easily distracted and needlessly convoluted. A new director, a trimmed-down story and some key cast changes do little to make this installment ship-shape. The fact that it’s in 3D - because everything is in 3D now - doesn’t do much to liven up proceedings. The new technology can’t help these cardboard cut-out characters or the theme-park world they inhabit, with all the extra effort reduced to thrusting the pointy end of various scimitars and cutlasses at the screen, now and again, in order to make the audience jump.

That’s not to say that there aren’t a few thrills to be found. Broadway musical director turned filmmaker Rob Marshall (Chicago) takes over for Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three movies. Marshall’s ability with staging and choreography is apparent in an early pell-mell chase scene as Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow escapes from the red-coated army of a bloated King George II (Richard Griffiths) along, above and below the cobbled streets of London. Shortly thereafter, Sparrow crosses swords with his old flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a cunning Spanish privateer with flashing eyes and a heaving bodice, in a fluidly-staged fight scene played out among the barrels in the basement of a grotty inn. Later, when Sparrow is back on the bounding main, his ship comes under attack from a shoal of beautiful mermaids, with long fishy tails and sharp vampire teeth, in a sequence that contains the majority of the film’s jumpy moments.

As for the plot (not that it matters much), Cap’n Jack is kidnapped by the beautiful Angelica and dragged on board the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ship belonging to the fearsome, voodoo-practising Blackbeard (Ian McShane) on a quest to find the fabled Fountain of Youth. The buccaneers are being trailed by the Spanish Navy, the English redcoats and Jack’s deceitful old nemesis Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), all of whom want to get their hands on the magical waters.

Its the stuff that happens in between; the chattering dialogue, cyclical plotting and repetitive exposition, that makes the latest Pirates such a bore. It’s all swash and no buckle. When audiences are meeting most of these characters for the fourth time, why bother constructing a story around them? It’s far easier to have the special effects and the production design, both of a high standard, do the job of telling the story. The biggest draw in this franchise remains Depp’s flamboyant Cap’n Jack, a mincing gadfly in eye-liner and floating scarves with a steady supply of nimble reactions and throwaway quips. He gets decent support from newcomers Cruz and McShane, with Geoffrey Rush reliable as always as the duplicitous peg-legged pirate Barbossa. A sub-plot involving a romance between an earth-bound mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and a heaven-bound monk (Sam Claflin) adds nothing to proceedings but time.