X-Men: First Class graduates with honours

firstcI wasn’t expecting a great deal when I stepped into the theatre to watch X-Men: First Class. As far as prequels and reboots go, few have succeeded in surpassing the original versions from which they spawned, and many have failed dismally by comparison. Director Matthew Vaughn however has taken the story of a younger Magneto and Charles Xavier (Professor X) and has given the entire X-Men series a welcome booster shot in its scaly blue mutant arm.

The movie begins with a flash back to a young German boy named Erik Lehnsherr (a young Magneto during World War 2) discovering strange powers as he rages against the Nazis who are dragging his parents off to Auschwitz. This is an extended version of the same scene we saw in the early X-Men films, where Magneto first discovers his metal focused telekinetic powers as he rips apart a metal gate. His abilities are noticed by a Nazi scientist Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) who attempts to further develop and exploit them.

The main portion of the film though takes place about 20 years later. An older and bitter Erik (played brilliantly by Michael Fassbender) begins to take his revenge on the people (in particular Shaw) who killed his mother and ruined his life. At the same time the telepathic Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is earning his doctorate in genetic research at Oxford while living with his shape-shifting (blue scaled) friend Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) who will later take on the name Mystique.

When it becomes apparent that Sebastian Shaw is still active and has some twisted plans for the human race, Xavier is recruited by the CIA to recruit genetic mutants to help the US stop Shaw from achieving his goals. New mutants are introduced and the early lives of mutants from previous films explored. There's plenty of humour here, especially watching the young Xavier demonstrating his well rehersed pick up routine.

It’s the story of Xavier and Erik however that really makes this film shine. Their early meetings capture and explore the main conflicts and issues that have run through all the X-Men chapters: Should mutants hide their differences and blend in? Are mutants the next step in evolution or a genetic wrong turn? Should they use their powers to dominate humanity? Can humans and mutants co-exist peacefully? And most importantly, is wearing a cape and a funny looking helmet an essential fashion accessory if you possess special powers?

The interplay between Xavier and Erik is excellent. The amiable, inclusive Xavier (the product of a privileged upbringing) believes humans and mutants can co-exist without bloodshed, while the bitter and twisted Erik (born out of the chaos of a country ravaged by war) struggles not to see the entire human race as the enemy, fighting the urge to give in to his baser instincts, to seek revenge at all costs - potentially to separate himself from humanity completely. The finale, skillfully tied together by the Cuban missile crisis, demonstrates clearly that the X-Men series has not lost its mutant mojo.

If this is your first X-Men film you will undoubtedly enjoy it, but if you have already been exposed to mutants in previous films you’ll get a lot more out of the extended back story of the two key characters - played in the original films by Patrick Stewart (Xavier) and Ian McKellen (Magneto). After watching the film I wanted to rush out and watch the first movies all over again.

This is a first class effort and should not be missed. Looking forward to future mutations!

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