Warning: Spoilers and Continuity issues ahead!

Recently I went to see X-Men: First Class the 20th Century Fox/Marvel prequel/reboot of the X-Men movie franchise. Even though I am an unabashed comic book/superhero fan I rarely offer my thoughts in a written review on such movies, but a recent discussion with a wise friend of mine has convinced me otherwise (as well as my own adventures as a Xavier-esque character with the FENX).

This particular X-Men outing is produced by Bryan Singer (the director of the first two X-Men films, and the ones I enjoy the most) and directed by Matthew Vaughn (who previously directed Kick Ass and was originally going to direct X-Men 3: The Last Stand after Singer left – but he too left the project) so creating a comic book movie isn’t something new for either of them.

As a prequel, X-Men: First Class begins where Bryan Singer’s first X-Men film began, in a Nazi concentration camp. A young Erik Lensherr, with the ability to manipulate metal, is being separated from his parents. It’s here where the prequel expands: a Nazi doctor conducting experiments wants to harness Erik’s ability and will go to any length to do so (even killing his mother right in front of him). This gets his ability going, and revenge on the brain. During the same time period we are introduced to a childhood Charles Xavier and his oldest friend, Raven Darkholm, a mutant shape-shifter (played by Robecca Romijn in the first three films and something the filmmakers have not forgotten in this film). Fast forward to 1962, Erik is now attempting to hunt down the Nazi doctor who unlocked his mutant abilities and Charles is about to receive his doctorate in genetics and a professorship at Oxford University in England. During a chance encounter at a pub he meets Moira McTaggert, an agent for the CIA who needs his expertise on genetic mutation. Upon visiting the CIA he is asked to assemble a special team of people with “abilities” to combat the threat of Sebastian Shaw , a Hugh Hefner type working with the Soviets to start nuclear war between the USSR and the United States (who happens to have a special team of his own – The Helllfire Club – in Emma Frost – a telepath with diamond skin – and Azazel, a demonic looking crimson teleporter). A botched attempt to take out Shaw is the catalyst for the friendship between Erik and Charles and they travel the globe tracking candidates (and even happen across a familiar face who has no interest in joining the team) after using an alpha version of Cerebro to identify them.

As the film progresses along the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis there are some twists and turns, but if you’re a fan of the X-Men mythos you know what’s coming and the movie deals with the material well, setting things up for a sequel that is bound to happen. In many ways the film is faithful to the mythos already established in the comics and movies, but there are some glaring departures (such as Emma Frost being an adult at this time when she’s just a kid in the Wolverine film, Moira McTaggert being an agent with the CIA, and the “Angel” in this film not being Warren Worthington; but that is at least resolved). The focus on Erik and Charles carries much of the film and makes their eventual separation (and Charles’s paralyzation; canonical with the comics or not) all the more powerful because it is partly Erik’s fault. This film does an excellent job of showing why Erik becomes who he does and to a degree you understandably root for him – despite what you know is coming – much akin to Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels. However, First Class does it far better in showing Erik’s inability to forgive and his being blinded by revenge juxtaposed with Xavier’s ability to forgive and be “the better man”: not hating humanity because they do not understand.

While I was initially wary of the casting of some of these iconic characters already played by great actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, McAvory and Fassbender both did well as Charles and Erik, as did Jennifer Lawrence and Jason Fleyming as Raven and Azazel – key characters going forward to connect to the movies already produced and set in the future. January Jones did well as Emma Frost, and honestly I’d like to see her go toe-to toe with Scott Summers if an X4 is ever made and they find a way resurrect his character post the death of Jean Grey; considering the Frost/Summers relationship in the comics, Frost should make an appearance in the future.

In the end, this First Class of Xavier’s Institute for Gifted Youngsters has begun a worthwhile venture whose legacy I look forward to seeing again on the big screen.

Aaron/The Professor

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