Having never seen an X-Men film, I wasn’t sure that I was qualified to review the fifth film in the X franchise. I believe that lack of “experience,” however, gave me the ability to view the film on its own weight--and I believe it stands quite nicely on its own.
As a child of the ‘60s, the film resonated with me. A cross between comic book super-hero, summer action, and ‘60s spy thriller films, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS strikes a fun and entertaining balance. For X-Men aficionados, the film fills in the back story of the gathering of the super-hero mutants and their ultimate split into good and evil forces. For those not familiar with the X-Men story, this film would be a great place to start to understand the roots of the team.
Set in the early ‘60s, the prequel sets the stage for the future of the X-Men in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In an opening flashback to Holocaust-era Poland in 1944, we see the beginnings of the telekinetic/magnetic powers of Erik Lensherr, who would eventually evolve into Magneto, as he is separated from his mother in the camp. Evil scientist Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) seeks to harness and exploit the powers of the boy, killing his mother in the process.
Fast-forward to 1962 and we see young graduate student and telepath Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) completing work on his PhD in human mutation theory. In tow is his fellow-mutant Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), a shape-shifter that Xavier had befriended in childhood. Meanwhile, Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) continues a savage mission to exact revenge on the Germans who killed his mother, including the vicious Dr. Shaw.
From there, the action comes fast and furious as evil professor Shaw seeks to take control of the world by forcing nuclear warfare between the US and the USSR. CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) uncovers the plot along with the powers of Shaw and his band of evil mutants. She seeks out mutant “expert” Xavier, and from there the film becomes fun. Lensherr and a team of mutant outcasts join forces with Xavier and MacTaggert to confront Shaw and his powerful crew.
McAvoy and Fassbender are great as allies Xavier and Lensherr. Their relationship prior to their ultimate evolution into archenemies Dr. X and Magneto is close and heartfelt. The strong character-driven story gives the viewer insight into the pain and the passion driving both characters as they seek to destroy Dr. Shaw. Kevin Bacon’s Shaw is dark, sinister, and evil, and Bacon clearly delights in the role.
A number of other mutant characters are drawn into the fray as we meet Havok (Alex Summers), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones). The mutant training camp scenes are amusing and endearing, giving the film heart. On the evil side, January Jones is scintillating as Emma Frost, while Alex Gonzalez is brutal and vicious as Riptide.
The plot has a number of twists and turns and features a number of dynamite performances throughout. Oliver Platt is great as a CIA department head and there's a brief, but funny cameo that serves as nod to the original 3 films.
About the only negative in the film is the confusing and conflicting “powers” of the various mutants. Credibility is strained in various fight scenes as the characters utilize their different abilities to defeat other mutants, though their superiority or lack thereof didn’t always seem to make sense. That aside, the movie was great fun and certainly worth two hours on a summer day. Definitely a fun ride for all!