X-Men: First Class, the new film in the X-Franchise, opened on June 3, 2011, and pretty much delivered itself as a good prequel to the X-Men storylines we saw in the first four X-movies.
This movie is a prequel to the other films, in that it introduces significant characters, such as Professor X, Magneto, Mystique, and Beast as younger versions of the characters we see in the first movies. The film is set in the 1960s, with an “evil Mutant" conspiracy background to a real event, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Continuity is assumed, in part due to the opening scene, which is the Nazi death camp scene from the first X-Men film, in which we see a young Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) as a child first using his powers.
The new film then plays off of that opening scene, with the villainous Sebastian Shaw (as wickedly portrayed by Kevin Bacon), torturing the young Magneto into gaining the ability to actually control his magnetic abilities. We then see a young Charles Xavier (Professor X), in his first encounter with another mutant, a young Mystique. X-Men: First Class then progresses through a series of encounters as Xavier pursues his passion for finding more examples of mutant-kind, while the now-adult Magneto seeks out the torturer from his past with bloody revenge on his mind.
Along the way, other characters from the X-Men comic world appear, including Hank McCoy (The Beast), Alex Summers (Havoc), Moira MacTaggert, Sean Cassidy, (Banshee), and Darwin, as original members of Xavier’s mutant team. On the villainous side, we see Sebastian Shaw, Emma Frost (The White Queen), Riptide, and Azazel. Magneto, in this film, is allied with, and a close friend of, Charles Xavier.
Without giving too much of the plot away, some of the more amusing parts hint at storylines yet to come, as Xavier and Magneto search the world for other mutants to recruit into their team. Look for cameos of mutants we know from other films.
As a fan and scholar of the original X-Men source-code (i.e. the comic books themselves), a few continuity and accuracy issues arise with this film:
–First, Moira MacTaggert in the film is an American CIA agent who seems very comfortable slipping out of her clothes in order to infiltrate the Hellfire Club. In the original X-Men reality, she is a Scottish geneticist. Major plot shift, and totally unnecessary!
–Second, Hank McCoy in the film is a mutant with “beast-like" feet, but that, and his genius-level intellect, is the extent of his mutant-hood. In reality, he had disproportionately large feet AND hands, and a muscular physique that made him look like an ape with human features. In the film, he is a skinny, nerdy, and somewhat shy, normal-looking geek. In the comics, McCoy is self-confident, and has a beast-like physique. This film portrayal of McCoy is a disappointment.
–The original X-Men included Warren Worthington as the Angel (who appears in one of the original X-Movies), but the Angel in the new film is a woman with insect-like wings, and some sort of natural fire-spit type offensive power. At first glance, one would assume that she is the movie version of the Wasp, who is a member of the Avengers, and, at least in the Ultimate Universe line of Marvel Comics, is a mutant. However, the producers of THIS movie franchise cannot call her that due to copyright issues (see below for more on that), so they call her “Angel," which is another disappointment to those who know the original Angel from the original X-books.
–The movie origin of Magneto’s helmet is actually quite interesting, but again, somewhat implausible. See the movie for details on that.
–And, in the most obvious deviation from the original X-Men first class of Xavier’s students, is the substitution of the above mutants for the original members, Cyclops, Marvel Girl (Jean Grey), Iceman, and the “real" Angel (plus the Beast). Since many of those characters show up in the earlier movies, I can’t complain too much about that point.
Now, as many Marvel fans know, Marvel Enterprises was bought up by the Disney Corporation last year. But, because of existing contractual obligations, several of Marvel’s most well-known, (and profitable) franchises are in the hands of other studios, such as Twentieth Century Fox, who produces the X-Men films. That means that unlike recent movies produced by Marvel Studios, there are no connections between this film and the other recent and upcoming Marvel movies, such as Iron Man, Thoror Captain America. And, unlike those movies, don’t bother waiting for an “easter egg" scene after the closing credits. X-Men: First Class contains no such fun nuggets. And, due to the fact that the upcoming Avengers movie is a Marvel/Disney production, and the Wasp is an Avenger, the Wasp-like character has to be called something else, hence the film’s Angel.
One more thing: X-Men: First Class is NOT a good film to take little kids to. The scenes in the Hellfire Club scene feature women (presumed to be prostitutes) in skimpy clothing employed to make the male customers of the club feel “comfortable," and the aforementioned Angel character is found by Xavier and Magneto to be working in a strip club. There is no actual nudity, but not much is left to the imagination. And, in one of the cameos by a future X-Man, a rather shocking, but amusing and very much in character, F-Bomb is thrown about. In the old days, these scenes would have earned an “R" rating, but this movie gets by with a PG-13 rating.
Overall, despite my comic-book geek criticisms, this film is definitely worth seeing if you like the X-Men. Character development is good, backstory is created, and the acting is quite good. The mutant combat scenes are effective, and the special effects are fun. The relationship between Xavier and Magneto, and also the relationship they each develop with Mystique, are both very well done and helps give the movie its depth.
X-Men: First Class is a classy new edition to the X-Men franchise. Well-worth seeing in the theater this summer.