Ever since the first X-Men movie was released more than a decade ago, I was fascinated by the saga and the upcoming sequels did not deter me from still liking it.
X-Men: First Class is both literally and figuratively a return to basics. It is both the prologue to all X-Men movies that were released before it and it is also a return to form of a series that kinda lost its way with trying to build too much history and subplot.
Erik Lehnsherr is a teenage boy, imprisoned in German Nazi concentration camps. When Dr. Schmidt sees him move a metal gate as his parents are taken away from him, he summons Erik and asks him to move a metal coin. Erik fails, with devastating consequences that lead to great anger, launching Erik’s powers of controlling metal and killing two guards on the spot.
Fast forward twenty years and Erik (Michael Fassbender) is on a mission to find Dr. Schmidt and kill him in revenge. On the other hand, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is seeking a PhD in Genetics with his research about the upcoming mutations in the human species. Charles, along with shape-shifter Raven (later known as Mystique and played by the awesome Jennifer Lawrence *insert fanboy hearts*) are trying to find other people of their kind and help them accept their condition. That’s when they are recruited by the CIA in order to prevent a nuclear war between the US and Russia, a war that is spearheaded by the present form of Dr. Schmidt, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a mutant whose power is deadly and his group of mutants who will do their best to bring destruction.
James McAvoy, as young Dr. Charles Xavier, is in a role he was born to play. I couldn’t imagine a better actor in this role simply because McAvoy embodies the serenity that Xavier has in the previous movies, set in the future compared to this one, perfectly. He is wise, calm and intelligent, exactly as the future Dr. X is.
On the other hand, Fassbender is as great in portraying Erik, later known as Magneto. He sets the tone for the character we all know later on amazingly well: the many layers that shape this man and his beliefs. And he does so perfectly.
Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays a younger Mystique, is absolutely stunning both literally and figuratively in that portrayal. Mystique (or as she is known in this movie: Raven) controls her powers really well. But her weakness is acceptance. She hates her blue-scaled look and seeks out a much more “acceptable” form as a human. Her path in the movie is first and foremost one towards self-acceptance, with which she will also help Henry McCoy (later known as Beast) to accept his mutation as well.
X-Men: First Class is fueled by the directing chops of Matthew Vaughn, whose latest offering was Kick Ass, a very interesting movie if you haven’t seen it. And you need to give lots of props to this director for taking what was, according to many (I still enjoyed the movies), a sagging franchise and breathed new life into it by reinvigorating its past and reminding everyone how it all started.
Why is it that Dr. Xavier is paralyzed? How did Magneto get that weird helmet he wears to prevent Dr. X from accessing his mind? How did the term X-Men originate? How did both sides of the battle (call them good and evil) originate? X-Men: First Class answers all these questions and more. It is a movie that doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. X-Men has always been a saga about the fine line between good and evil and how that line gets blurred often. This one is no different. You feel that both sides of the equation have things going for them. It doesn’t show one side in a good light and the other in a bad light. Both have strong and true convictions. You get to choose the side you want to be on.
2011 is shaping up to be a great movie for superhero movies. After the highly entertaining Thor (my review), X-Men: First Class steps it up. And with more superhero movies to come, it will take a mighty effort for them to overtake the caliber that this movie presents. Go watch it now. You will be absorbed for over two hours. Your move, Captain America.