With X-Men: First Class this Marvel Comics franchise has had new life breathed into it.
The story takes us back to the origins of the X-Men beginning in 1944 Poland as Erik Lehnsherr (later to become Magneto played by Michael Fassbender) witnesses his mother being shot by a Nazi scientist (Sebastian Shaw played by Kevin Bacon) who is trying to force Erik to demonstrate his telekinetic powers. At the same time, in Westchester County, New York, young Charles Xavier (later Professor X played by James McAvoy) meets Raven the shape-shifting girl disguised as his mother and is overjoyed to discover that he is not alone as a “mutant” after he exposes her. As the story progresses, Charles and Sebastian, who have different approaches to dealing with their status as mutants, move towards each other in a dramatic showdown as Shaw tries to spark a world war that will result in the dominance of mutants over the rest of humanity.
First Class is a refreshing re-envisioning of a franchise that was becoming tired and losing its way. The story is a little too long at over two hours but is mostly well-paced with a story that does a great job of tying into the rest of the series. There are a lot of characters and only a few of them are richly drawn as there is not enough screen time for many of them. The best are Charles Xavier and Magneto. There is lots of action that is well directed and the special effects are mind-blowing.
One aspect of the movie I particularly liked was the weaving of actual historical events into the story – although I was a little discomforted with the potential to trivialise them (eg, the Holocaust and Cuban Missile Crisis) by being associated with a comic superhero story. But the integration is quite well done. There is also some subtle commentary on contemporary issues (like the idea that security should override freedom of the individual) making it a little deeper and richer than some action movies. And there is some witty humour that evokes a laugh here and there.
Despite its few flaws it is an enjoyable and entertaining move. If you are an X-Men fan you won’t be disappointed.
'After undergoing some unfortunate mutations in recent years, a beleaguered Marvel movie property gets the smart, stylish prequel it deserves in X-Men: First Class.’ – Justin Chang/Variety
'A cameo from an old-school X-Man only serves to remind how stylish and witty the first installment was a decade ago. Lacking a single memorable joke or striking image, First Class is as perfunctory and passionless as would-be franchise resurrections get.’ – Karina Longworth/Village Voice
intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language