X-Men: First Class is a prequel to the three, or four if you count Wolverine which was basically a prequel too, X-Men movies. Set mostly in the early sixties the movie deals with the then real-time threat of a nuclear war even going so far as to making the Cuban missile crisis the climax of the movie. But long before that rolls on screen the movie begins, like the first X-men movie, in a Polish concentration camp where we once again see a young Erik Lensherr bend a metal gate when he sees his mother being taken away by Nazi’s. This is witnessed by Dr Sebastian Shaw, a gleefully Kevin Bacon, who wants to explore these abilities and to do so shoots the young boys mother dead in front of him. Summer blockbuster movies rarely go this dark.
The main problem I have with prequels is that you already know where it eventually is going to end, who will live and who will probably die. Prequels are mostly about how things came to be rather than what things are going to be. X-Men First Class has this problem also and during the course of the movie certain questions were pondering in my head; will Erik and Charles go separate ways during this movie, will Charles end up the wheelchair, will Hank turn blue?
I would not have mind if they had taken another movie to answer these questions.
Luckily the movie took my mind of these questions by giving us an intriguing story interwoven by real historical events. In the beginning Erik is a Nazi hunter which leads him to Swiss banks and Argentina. They could have made a nice movie out of this I must say and it wouldn’t surprise when this piece of the story was lifted from the idea for creating the X-Men Origins: Magneto movie which was supposed to go into production after the Wolverine movie but never did. While Erik is this filled with hatred revenge machine Xavier is leading a life without care. His powers are undetectable for the outside world and being able to read minds he easily pick ups girls in bars. Next to that he seems to come from a wealthy family and becomes a professor in title fairly easy. Life is good to this mutant who is way more positive about mutant abilities and fitting in society than most of his fellow-mutants, most notably the ones who’s exterior shows their difference, though the examples given in the movie don’t really make sense. Hank/Beast has hands for feet but wearing shoes nobody notices, Raven/Mystique can change into everyone she likes and most of the time is this cute little blonde chick instead of her blue default form. These were pubescent problem to me, while these kids appear to be in their twenties at least. The problem of Rogue’s mutation in the first three movies felt more real to me as that really posed a problem.
Other than Beast, Mystique, Magneto and Professor X all the mutants are fresh faces but I did find them not to be the most impressive mutants especially the first class of the X-men. Because the movie takes most of its time to establish the relation between Xavier and Erik as well as the overlaying cold war story the secondary mutants are left underdeveloped. The kids all get a basic personality so that they can easily be identified like Havoc who’s established as the bully of the team and Banshee as the insecure nerdy one. In case of the bad guys only Sebastian Shaw gets to steal the show, while Emma Frost gets enough scenes but mostly shows off her killer physique. January Jones might be a despicable and cold character on Mad Men, but it seems that her bland way of acting is the best she can do, considering she gave the same bland performance also in Unknown earlier this year. She might have the looks but not really the acting chops.
But on a whole this movie is just plain fun. Matthew McVaughn directs with the same freshness he displayed a year ago with Kick-Ass, though despised by critics I certainly loved it, and he shows that he can also handle a period piece with flair. The sets look right, the atmosphere is great and the story intriguing. Now that we have seen the first class, there’s enough for a second here.