Prequels are a lot like rocket launches. If they are done well they’re a benefit to all mankind, but if they fail they can be a catastrophic disaster. Sadly in prequels there are more Challengers than Apollo 11s. X-Men: First Class thankfully is a film that made it to Mars.
X-Men: First Class takes place in the early 60s before mutants were known to the general public. Young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Atonement) is recruited by the government to stop the evil and powerful mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, Footloose)and his little band of misfits from starting World War III via the Cuban missile crisis. Along the way McAvoy picks up a ragtag group of minors he can throw into dangerous situations, as well as his future arch nemesis Magneto (Michael Fassbender, Inglorious Bastards).
The film is of course filling in a lot of the back story from the other four films, and actually does a great job of it. One of the subplots features Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, The Poker House) trying to come to terms with her identity as a mutant and the fact that, if she were to go around in her natural blue form, she would not be accepted by society. This creates an interesting paradigm between her, Fassbender and Beast (Nicholas Hoult, Clash of the Titans). Fans of the series already know which way she ends up going, but it’s still interesting to see what brought her to that decision.
One of the biggest drawing pieces of the comic book movies is the special effects. This time around fans get to be excited to see (playing for McAvoy’s side) Banshee, Havoc, Darwin as well as the before mentioned Magneto, Beast and Mystique. Bacon’s side is flavored with newcomers Riptide, Azazal (who is such a Nightcrawler clone it’s pretty much guaranteed he’s going to be his father if another movie comes out), Angel and fan favorite Emma Frost (January Jones, Mad Men).
It was refreshing to see that the casting favored more up-and-coming actors than the usual high billing mega stars the other films featured. This gave the budget some room to take off on the writing rather than trying to dangle money over Halle Berry. There are very few examples where a super hero movie actually requires thought to watch, and X-Men: First Class happily fits into that category. The film seamlessly flows from the savage brutality of Nazi Germany to the confusion and pain in a young teenager’s heart over decisions that could affect her entire life – magnificently told and masterfully acted.
X-Men: First Class is rated PG-13 for awesome super hero violence and a cameo by Wolverine telling McAvoy and Fassbender what they can go do with themselves.