The X-Men films were among the first of the comic book film adaptations that introduced the average person to the world of the comic book. The first, which was directed by Bran Singer, was a critical and box office success especially considering it was essentially one long introduction to the all of the main characters and events. Not long after the last move was released there was talk of what to do next with the characters, there was mention of spin-offs and such featuring some of the more notable characters. The character of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) did wind up getting his own film. The most recent addition to the X-men mythos is the new film X-men: First Class which takes us back to how all of these characters and events came together.
The film stars James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr. The film opens with the scenes from the original X-men movie where we watch a young Erik being separated from his mother during WWII. This time though, we learn that almost ripping off the metal gates of a compound in front of government officials does not go unnoticed. It is in the following scene where we learn what happened to Erik during his youth. He was recruited by Nazi officials to make use of his abilities. At the same time young Charles is growing up in Westchester, NY. He is the first to encounter Raven Darkholme or Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) as we know her.
As the years pass Charles finds himself attending Oxford with Raven at his side, pretending to be his sister, while Erik on the other hand has made it his life's mission to find the man who recruited him, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and find revenge. Shaw is still alive and somehow still very youthful given that 20 years have gone by. Now in charge of a clandestine group calling themselves the Hellfire Club, they plan on starting a third World War in which the mutants come out as the sole survivors. Charles and Raven are recruited by the C.I.A. to help in locating the Hellfire Club and during an explosive first encounter with the two powers is where Erik and Charles first meet.
They quickly become friends, each finding a mutual respect for one another and their beliefs; Charles believing that peaceful co-existence is possible for mutants and humans, while Erik believes they are the new rulers of mankind. There are times where you can see each of the two men's points of view. A scene in which Charles tries to convince his friend that killing is not the way to find peace for yourself, it can only be found through forgiveness. Another scene that highlights Erik's point of view is when he convinces Mystique that hiding her true appearance is not any way to live, she should be proud of who she is.
With the final showdown between the newly formed X-men and the Hellfire Club approaching it is only a matter of time before the world is made aware of the existence of mutants and the real fight begins. There are some positive and negative things to say about this film. The good: obviously the special effects look fantastic, the characters are interesting, there is a fun cameo from a beloved character, and the way the film chose to establish the philosophy of both Charles and Erik. The trouble though is in the plot of the film itself, there are some holes, especially considering that there are three previous movies that have established certain lore surrounding these characters. To point out every little nuance would take too long but for any hard-nosed fan they are obvious. The pacing felt a bit sluggish as well, the film was essentially one long introduction quite like the original film, this time it introduced the back story instead of the characters.
It also seemed as though they rushed the final "falling out" between Charles and Erik, it would have been more interesting to see them be friends working together for a full trilogy only to finally become enemies in the end. But we can't have everything we want. For now X-men: First Class is a good offering of the history behind some of comics most famous heroes.