The X-Men franchise seems to have a bottomless reservoir of different film variations that can be filmed. We’ve already gone through three X-Men movies, and a movie about the origins of Wolverine. With X-Men: First Class we’ve circled all the way back around. This is a prequel to the trilogy of X-Men movies, and I just might be so bold to say that it’s the best X-Men feature to date.
The franchise needed a reboot after the soulless Bret Ratner flick X-Men: The Last Stand. Leave it up to Ratner to run a successful, beloved franchise straight into the ground. Instead of continuing on with the story that Ratner and his crew left hanging lifeless and dead, new director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) decided that doing a prequel made more sense. Boy, does it ever! Most of these superhero movies we’ve been inundated by are based in modern day. X-Men: First Class makes a bold move by creating a period piece at the same time, creating a action-packed superhero movie. It’s a fine line to walk, but Vaughn and his crew nail it perfectly.
First Class attempts to set up the beginning of the discovery of mutants on earth and how Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) searched out and recruited mutants from around the globe. What First Class does so well is how well it paints the portrait of Xavier and Lehnsherr’s relationship before they split up into different factions. This deep friendship is something that is hinted at in the previous X-Men movies, but isn’t fully realized until this movie.
Like any good period piece, X-Men: First Class sucks in the feeling of that time period. Here the beginning of the X-Men find themselves facing the possibility of World War III, along with the rest of the human race. The Cold War is at its height, and the Cuban Missile Crisis is becoming a real and imminent threat to total global nuclear war. How First Class weaves its way in and out of real history is something of a marvel. Vaughn and his team of screenwriters are able to take the sheer dread of the real threat of nuclear annihilation, which was prevalent in the early sixties, and inject it into their screenplay. The results end up being a mixture of a really good Bond movie coupled with the action and intensity of an energetic superhero movie.
Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) is the big bad villain here. Like any good villain, Shaw rides around in his own personal submarine plotting world domination. Shaw is a mutant, and has different ideals. He believes that humans will end up hating mutants, and will at some point try to destroy them all. His plan is a preemptive attack on the human race. Wipe them out before they know what mutants are capable of. So, he personally tries to create a scenario that will bring about a nuclear holocaust.
X-Men has always been good at defining ideals that seem to become lost in the rock’em-sock’em action of other superhero movies. It raises questions of social tolerance, and acceptance. Will we as a human race embrace people who are different than ourselves, or will we shun them? Dismissal of groups of people have, sadly, been part of our past here in the United States. Racism and bigotry are, unfortunately, still alive today. X-Men does a wonderful job showcasing the real-world problems that we have with these types of issues and the different schools of thought that go with it.
X-Men isn’t just a good superhero movie with fantastic action sequences and thrilling CG-laden fight scenes, but at its core its simply a good movie. Its characterization is top-notch. Vaughn leaves nothing out when dissecting the inner workings of Xavier and Magneto. I hate to wax hyperbolic, but X-Men: First Class truly is one of the best movies you will end up seeing this summer. That I’m sure of.