Review - X-Men First Class

At its heart, X-Men has always been about equal rights. Mainly between mutants and mankind. Professor X and Magneto were veiled references to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X respectively. Professor X felt that all individuals -regardless of birthright- could coexist while Magneto felt that mutants were superior to humans and shouldn't have to play by their rules. The remarkable thing was that despite their conflicting viewpoints they maintained a friendship that started with a bond between brothers. That's probably the best thing about X-Men First Class, an overall splendid foray back into the world of X-Men.

If you don't already know, X-Men First Class takes us back to the 60s and the start of the X-Men as a team. The primary focus of the film is on the relationship between Professor X and Magneto and their approaches to mutants and humans, only before they took on the names and before they truly knew where they stood. James McAvoy plays the brash and truly excited Charles Xavier, eager to find other mutants with the hopes of learning from them and teaching them. Michael Fassbender plays the calculating and vengeful Erik, traveling the world to find Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a part of the Nazi war machine that separated him from his parents.

The heart of this movie is Erik. X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men Origins: Magneto were both planned a while back, yet we only saw one of them. The latter was scrapped to become X-Men First Class, but it's clear that this movie is essentially Magneto's origin story. The beginning is even the exact same beginning to X-Men, with Erik being ripped from his parents in a concentration camp. Fassbender has become the de facto choice for Magneto and, no disrespect to Sir Ian McKellan, owns it. There's a cruelty to Erik/Magneto that McKellan never quite fully tapped into. Fassbender wears his pain very openly throughout the film and makes it clear that his one goal is to seek vengeance on Shaw.

Despite it seeming like an origin story for Magneto, it's just as much one for Charles Xavier as well. McAvoy is extremely convincing as Xavier and perfectly conveys the arrogance that X has been accused of from time to time. He's even got a great pickup line about mutations that he's not afraid to break out from time to time. It's great to see this Xavier: purely curious about mutants and almost naieve about their place in the world. Don't get me wrong- Xavier isn't stupid. You could say though that he's living life without the weight of the world on his shoulders in the form of Erik and moulding the mutant youth of tomorrow that are the X-Men.

Now, this wouldn't be an X-Men film without, well, the X-Men, and this one's got them. The main ones are Mystique, Beast, Havok, Banshee, White Queen, Azazel, Riptide, Angel (the Tempest version) and Darwin. Shaw presides over the Hellfire Club while Xavier is forced to preside over his soon to be famous Xavier Institute For Higher Learning. Their rivalry (Shaw vs. Charles/Erik) is allowed to form naturally and isn't forced. It even sort of makes sense within the context of the movie as the two teams weren't pitted against each other for the sake of protagonist and antagonist roles.

Years of comics have pretty much told us where Xavier, Erik and Shaw stand, but X-Men First Class took it a step further. The entire film is about all the characters learning their tolerance. Tolerance of themselves as mutants and tolerance of humans tolerating them. Phew. The X-Men make choices throughout the film that reflect their views on the subject and it's safe to say that none of them are purely black and white. The entire film is a shade of gray so to speak, which is very convincing.

Placing the burgeoning mutant civil war within the context of real world was also very well done as the film is set against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis. Shaw wants to incite World War III and is content with moving the pieces around, although his motivations are a little weak. If I had one complaint that would probably be it. Bacon plays the role of Shaw very well, with an appropriate amount of suaveness, but it's just his endgame is a little cheesy if you ask me. I did like the natural conflict that set a timer for the movie. Either the X-Men figure things out or the Cuban missile crisis is more than a crisis and we are looking at an all-out, thermonuclear war.

X-Men First Class is a great film that clocks in a little over two hours that doesn't feel like two hours. It's not quite a reboot of the series and it adds something to it that's been missing in the last two film iterations. Matthew Vaughn did a great job sticking with the source material, but no so close to it that he was restricted by it. It's very tongue in cheek and realizes that fans are watching it as well, making little in-jokes and even featuring some really awesome cameos that EVERYONE will appreciate. It's a movie that, as cliche as it sounds, really does breathe new life into the film series. Vaughn doesn't try to bludgeon you to death with politics and civil rights; rather, he let's the movie's natural progression do it for you.

There's going to be a sequel in place and X-Men First Class moves everything into place for such a film. Not only that, but it also brings some aspects of the characters into comic continuity, clearly another nod to the fans in the audience. Highly recommend checking the film out as it's definitely worth your while.