X-Men: First Class is the latest of the graphic novel (read: comic book)/superhero movies. Well, rather, it’s the “first” of them. Being a prequel, and all. It tells the story of how Professor [Charles] Xavier’s (James McAvoy) School for Gifted Youngsters gets its start.
It tells the tale of young Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is sent to a concentration camp during World War II. There he is forced to hone his metal bending powers, encouraged by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Shaw’s initial “encouragement” is shooting Erik’s mother.
Charles meets Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) in his childhood home and befriends her. They become like sister and brother.
As an adult, Erik hunts down Shaw as vengeance for what happened at the concentration camp. Shaw is busy plotting the beginnings of World War III. His hope is that the war will be nuclear. This will kill all the humans, and enhance the mutants abilities. (This is done through moves like US missile installations in Turkey, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.)
The government pulls in all the mutants, the “good” ones, that is, to use as a weapon against Shaw. When their location is discovered, they move to Charles’ mansion. (A location no one would ever think to look if they were trying to find him, apparently.)
There is a lot of action in this movie. There is also a lot of history. And a lot of back story. While I applaud their efforts to make the storyline fit history, some of it seems a bit forced. As do the efforts to make this prequel fit nicely with the later movies. (This is a frequent problem with making prequels after the success of “later” movies. See the Star Wars dynasty for another example.) It is ok. But some of it seems a bit corny/cheesy/plasticky (how Charles ends up in a wheelchair) and forcing a square peg into a smaller square hole. The plotlines may be how the actual back story of the comic book goes. But it is definitely flawed a bit in execution.
The movie is considerably darker than the earlier (“later”) X-Men movies. I have let my kids watch all the previous. But this one, they’ll most likely miss. It’s also quite a bit more graphic. So, unless you want to explain the holocaust and some other heavy topics, leave them at home. Also, at 2 hours 11 minutes, it feels a bit long. It could have dropped 20-30 minutes and still have accomplished everything. (Much like this review is a touch long and could have dropped a paragraph or two. But I feel the review should match the movie-going experience.)
It’s not a terrible movie. It’s just not a great one. You won’t hate yourself for seeing it. But you wouldn’t be remiss if you didn’t catch this one.