X-Men: First Class reinvigorates the series by going back to its groovy, swinging roots. Part adventure, part history lesson and all-exciting, Vaughn’s film delves movingly into what made young Holocaust survivor Erik Lehnsherr into the villainous Magneto, played by Sir Ian McKellen previously. McAvoy is a perfect, compassionate counterpoint, as the telepath who would be Patrick Stewart, a.k.a. Professor X.
The story of these friends and future enemies begins in the 40’s, when Erik reveals his mutant power over metal in an attempt to save his parents, and at the same time, young Charles Xavier finds a familiar blue shape-shifter stealing food in the kitchen of his family’s palatial Westchester mansion. Raven, a.k.a. Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone fame, who cements her reputation as a strong, committed actress who is ready to assume any role that would have earlier been given to Leelee Sobieski. But if Young Magneto and Junior Professor X are friends, who is their super-villain nemesis? That would be the utterly evil Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a former Nazi scientist and current mutant collector. The action moves to 1962, where it turns out the Shaw is primed to bring about nuclear war via the Cuban Missile Crisis.
X-Men: First Class echoes J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek prequel in that we are introduced to many characters who will be very important in the X-Men’s future, with enough nodding cameos to tickle fans of the film series. The rest of the cast is impressive, including Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man) as Beast, January Jones as Emma Frost, and Rose Byrne and Oliver Platt as the only good guys in the US Military Complex that will eventually demonize all mutants.
The awesome sixties production design is a character unto itself, even if I doubt miniskirts were all the rage that early. X-Men: First Class truly succeeds in creating human stories amongst the action sequences. Fassbender’s quest for vengeance is a powerful plot, and the mutants’ quest to be accepted for who they are and not be hated and feared for it continues to strike a deep chord with LGBT audiences.
The best thing about X-Men: First Class is that you don’t have to have seen anything that came before to appreciate and follow the plot. In a summer that will be jam-packed with monsters, wizards and superheroes. X-Men: First Class graduates with top honors!
UPDATE: X-Men: First Class is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.