I had heard whispers about this X-Men movie being distinctly different from its predecessors. I, has I have come to learn, was skeptical of this possibility given the less than stellar offerings since X-Men 3. I am not sure if it was the dedication to making this one true to its era or Michael Fassbender acting circles around the rest of the cast, but this film is certainly one of the best X-Men films I have ever seen, and quite possibly one of the best superhero movies as well. It is a superhero epic through and through involving the conventional trope of introducing the characters powers before their names and creating a villain who is obnoxiously strong, yet is defeated by their own hubris. Perhaps it was the nostalgic nature of Matthew Vaughn's fantasy directorial style or the Cold War era imagery, but the cookie cutter narrative seemed to be so fresh and unique that I desired more when the credits came up. In essence I wish this film were not a prequel, but the actual cast and narrative of the X-Men films in general, because it has much more promise than the Hugh Jackman films thus far.
The storyline of this film should not be too difficult to explain to those with a cursory knowledge of the X-Men franchise. The film follows in rather equal amounts the life of two young mutants Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik (Michael Fassbender), who would later become leaders of the most notable groups in the Marvel world, Professor X who leads the X-Men and Magneto leader of the Brotherhood of Mutants. As a result of Cold War fears, the CIA recruits both Xavier and Michael to battle a seemingly unstoppable man named Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) who possess the power to consume energy and redirect it in whatever manner he deems fit. Shaw, a mutant, sees humans as a lesser being inferior and in need of destruction. He hopes to play up on Cold War fears leading to a nuclear fallout in which only pockets of human life will remain allowing him rule over as a superior being. There is a lot of narrative in between this and the final battle, but to be honest it is filler and introduces minor characters, with the exception of Hank McCoy a.k.a Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Emma Frost, played by Mad Men actress January Jones. This narrative really exists to set up for a follow-up film, or at least I hope. Regardless, after averting war between The United States and Russia, Xavier and Erik part ways and the world of the X-Men as we love it begins.
As a big budget superhero movie X-Men: First Class has its problematic moments, the most blatant one of these occuring with the minor character Darwin (Edi Gathegi). In a rather heavy handed move, Shaw attempts to recruit mutants to his side by stating that humans only desire to have mutants "enslaved." The film cuts to Darwin a black character, implying ties to slavery. While enslavement certainly occurred, it seemed like a bad choice for a film made in 2011. Furthermore, the film often slams women, while this was the case for 1960's rhetoric, it seem as though the filmmaker and writer could have used the narrative imagery as a moment to undermine such statements...unfortunately it never occurs. Finally, and perhaps least relevant to social criticism is the cameo of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). It offers a bit of humor in the film, but also a rather ridiculous attempt to hype another of Marvel's film franchises. As if it were not enough to have Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Spiderman and an Avengers film in the future, the company decided to remind us of another offering soon to appear. It really delineated from the sixties vibe of the film and was completely unnecessary.
With those critiques out of the way, I still recommend this film. It is perfectly executed and is promises to open up possibilities for the highlight comic characters of Marvel. Go view this while it is still in theaters it is a great way to end the summer.