X-Men: First Class

Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence; some sexual including brief nudity and language)

X-Men: First Class is a prequel to the other X-Men films based, of course, on Marvel Comic characters. To my surprise, it was a lot of fun. While watching the movie, I could not help but remember how much I enjoyed the Star Trek prequel (Star Trek in 2009) which clearly influenced this contribution to the X-Men franchise. While this prequel isn’t as good as that, it never had a dull moment and I could also not help but appreciate the filmmakers’ homage to James Bond films from the 1960s. Very nice touch, indeed.  

The film opens to 1944 in a Nazi concentration camp and gives us some of the back story on what motivates the future Magneto’s tortured and complex personality. Michael Fassbender plays the adult Magneto but he is Erik Lehnsherr before that happens. Erik is a young Jewish boy who is separated from his parents at the camps. When he displays special powers (the ability to manipulate metal objects), he is brought before the villain, Sebastian Shaw (played by Kevin Bacon — yep, that’s right — Kevin Bacon). Bacon speaks polite but menacingly (in German, by the way) to young Erik and traumatizes the boy paving the way for young man Erik (in 1962) to seek revenge by tracking old Nazis down and killing them and eventually become the troubled Magneto.

We also get to see the boy version of Charles Francis Xavier and witness how he met Raven, later to be known as Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Young Charles turns into adult Charles (James McAvoy) who becomes an expert on genetic mutations. We watch both Erik and Charles develop their personalities and also learn how they meet and eventually how they recruit other “Mutants” or young people with special powers. We also get to learn how the CIA tries to recruit the Mutants for military purposes. Oliver Platt makes an appearance as an early “Man in Black.”

We also find that the former Nazi Shaw is now working with the Russians and his villainy propels the world to the brink of nuclear war via the Cuban missile crisis.

January Jones plays Emma Frost who is the Natasha to Shaw’s Boris. This brings me to the point that there are a lot of bad guys in this movie…and there are a lot of characters going from good to bad and back again. Makes one get a little dizzy but I get the point: people go bad for reasons in their past…very Freudian, I suppose.

The young mutants are a not very fully developed but that is understandable given that the plot is a bit crowded with characters. They are presented in sort of a slap dash manner which means the entire film is a little frantic — but to me, that breathlessness is part of the comic book

appeal.

I have read that this version takes liberties with the actual original comic book characters and plays fast and loose with the characters later on (or earlier on) in the other X-Men films. So, you purists should be forewarned — although if you are true X-Men purists you would have already seen the film by the time this review

appears in print — so, never mind,

Bottom line: this is a fine film with a unabashed glorification of comic book cheesiness with a sophisticated, nostalgic nuance — a tribute to a time when film (and comic book) villains were unadulterated “eeeeeevilllllll.”  This is an intelligent and sleek movie that aims to entertain and to have fun with the characters and storyline. It does not take the genre too seriously and for once, it didn’t succumb to the pathetic 3D mania that has infected Hollywood. It is a bright and crisp depiction wherein the tongue is planted firmly in cheek and we are nine year old boys in 1962 getting lost in the joys of a red, white, and blue comic book.

X-Men: First Class earns four bow ties out of five.

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