Welcome to the beginning of a proposed new trilogy in the X-Men franchise. X-Men: First Class is the 5th X-Men film and is a prequel to the original 2000 feature. This one takes us to the very beginning…1944Poland precisely, where we find a young Erik Lensherr (the future Magneto) in a German concentration camp. When the Nazis take is mother away he reveals his previously unknown ability to bend metal. Nazi officer Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) takes notice and attempts to persuade the youngster to use is power for the Nazi cause. In the process, Shaw kills Erik’s mother.
Meanwhile in theU.S.a young Charles Xavier (the future Professor X) discovers someone foraging around in his kitchen late one night. It turns out to be another young mutant like himself, Raven. He takes her in and she becomes his step-sister.
Fast-forward to 1962 and Erik (now played by Michael Fassbender) is looking for Shaw to get revenge for the murder of his mother. His search takes him toArgentinaand then the U.S. Charles and Raven are inEnglandwhere Charles has been studying atOxford. CIA agent Moira MacTaggart encounters Shaw and his posse (fellow mutants Emma Frost and Azazel) inLas Vegas. From there things get fairly complicated…but essentially Moira employs Charles to help the CIA fight Shaw after Shaw, who hates humans, has basically engineered the Cuban missile crisis by convincing the US to put nukes in Turkey, threatening the USSR and the Russians to retaliate by shipping nukes to Cuba.
Charles and Raven, with the help of another CIA agent, played by Oliver Platt, find and recruit other mutants to help their cause. They are: Angel (Zoe Kravitz) who has dragonfly-style wings, Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones) capable of hypersonic screaming, Darwin (Edi Gathegi) who is capable of “reactive evolution”, Havok (Lucas Till) who can discharge blasts of energy. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) is a shape-shifter, Charles, or Professor X, (James McAvoy) is telepathic and Erik, or Magneto, Professor X’s friend and confidant.
That a lot of characters to introduce and a lot of back story to tell. Fortunately director Matthew Vaughn manages to squeeze everything in while still presenting us with an entertaining and exciting film (original X-Men director Bryan Singer was to helm this one but had to drop out, he has a producer and screenplay credit).
The cast is pretty good as well. James McAvoy carries the show as Professor X and Kevin Bacon proves to be a formidable opponent at Sebastian Shaw. Mad Men’s January Jones is a particularly gifted actress, but, as the icy villainess Emma Frost, she doesn’t have to be…her other “gifts” are more than adequate.
Essentially, there are three conflicts taking place here…Shaw and his crew vs. Professor X and the other mutants, then Professor X and Magneto as their philosophy of how mutants and humans should interact begins to drift apart. Finally, the individual mutants are dealing with inner conflict over their own appearance and how they fit in with the rest of the world.
But despite the complex plotlines and the myriad of characters to get acquainted with, this is basically a good-time action film and it certainly succeeds there. For those who want a bit more emotional involvement with the characters and an interesting story, there’s that as well.
It’s not easy for a film like this to work on so many levels, so congratulations all around. I’ll be looking forward to the next instalment of the story.