It is no wonder this re-installment of X-Men is so enjoyable. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender star as Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) respectively. This X-Men story in a sense hits the reset button and offers fans an intimate glimpse of the beginnings of mutant societies and even more importantly, it shows how key allegiances were formed. Normally I feel skepticism when any film harkens back to WWII and Jewish ghettos or concentration camps, but it is critical to do so in order for the psychology of Magneto to come to life. As a young boy, Erik and his parents were collected into a Polish ghetto. When Erik's parents were shepherded away, he moved the ghetto gates with the power of his mutated mind. This captured the attention of a Nazi scientist/doctor (a prototype of Dr. Josef Mengele, the nicknamed "doctor of death"). Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) placed a young Erik in an impossible catch-22 situation. He demanded the young boy demonstrate his power to move metal or his mother would be summarily executed before his very eyes. Try as Erik did, the Nazi coin would not budge so Shaw shot his mother in cold blood. This enraged Erik and unleashed how powers in a wild frenzy of destruction within the Nazi's laboratory. Once the war ended and as the years passed, Erik managed to survive as a guinea pig for Shaw and eventually sought vengeance on his captors. Erik became a sort of Simon Wiesenthal devotee (they hunted Nazis in South America). After vanquishing his enemies, Erik focused his sight on killing Shaw himself.
This brings us to another beginning, and one that is orchestrated with great attention to detail. As a young and affluent boy, Charles Xavier had very few friends. He could read and control minds but until a startling houseguest arrived, he did not realize that he would meet others of his kind. Raven (played by the jaw-dropping Jennifer Lawrence) appeared in his kitchen, transformatively (for she quickly turned blue and revealed herself to later be sobriqueted Mystique). They grew up together as best friends and constant allies. From time to time Raven would have to suffer Charles' physical revulsion to her true blue form and endure his sexual escapades while she sat idly by pining and green-eyed. Eventually, Charles became a traveling lecturer/professor and this garnered the attention of an FBI agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne).
Agent MacTaggert is a diehard do-gooder with a heart of gold. The same cannot be said for the majority of her cohorts, with the exception of the "Man In The Black Suit" (Oliver Platt). They both have the best of intentions for the mutants and construct devices to speed along their rescue and acquisition. Through a nearly fatal FBI operation, Charles and Raven and Erik become teammates of sorts. Charles begins massaging Erik's ego and reigning in his anger in an effort to help him channel his powers with greater results. Erik begins tampering with Raven's mind and suggests that she has no reason to transform for she is beautiful "as is" (like a foreclosure!). At the FBI base, Charles is given access to the first "Cerebro" in an effort to locate all of the mutants in the world. Several are collected and together a new team is forming with the intent of stopping Shaw who has gone rogue and begun a plan for the earth's nuclear destruction. We come to find out that Shaw's experiments on Erik's handcuffed body allowed him to become a mutant with the power of absorbing and unleashing infinite amounts of energy (specifically nuclear). Since this episode of X-Men occurs in the 1960s, the geopolitical focus is the Cuban Missile Crisis (specifically nuclear brinkmanship between Premier Khrushchev and President Kennedy).
Shaw has recruited maligned mutants. His criminal syndicate includes the devilish Azazel (Jason Flemyng), Riptide (Alex Gonzales) and Emma Frost (the sizzling Jennifer Jones who looks like a 1960s calendar girl). Charles' team includes Raven (now Mystique), Erik (now Magneto), Hank (a.k.a. "Beast"), Angel (Zoe Kravitz), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), and Havok (Lucas Till). Each possessed an incredible ability. Together they are unstoppable. Unfortunately in their quest to prevent Shaw from destroying the world, they are divided and some fall.
X-Men: First Class is just that, the best, top-notch. Fassbender and McAvoy are magic together. Their friendship ignited a war spanning generations of mutants. It is fun yet somehow excruciating to watch their inevitable split. Finding out how Magneto's helmet came to exist, or how Xavier's Cerebro started is all part of the fun. Why did out favorite characters choose sides, and how many shades of gray are there when a mutant chooses to rebel against humankind suffering from stubborn obsolescence? I encourage everyone to race to the theaters to enjoy this gem on the big screen (some screens are bigger than others to be sure!). Learn about the history of X-Men, and in doing so enjoy one hell of a story.
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