So you're a mutant. Shame. Genetic anomaly, vat of green liquid goo or ninja turtle - it's not your fault. You could blame your genes, your Dad's tight jeans, the nearest nuclear power station or your mom for dropping you on your head one too many times as a baby. Just remember you're special. No, not "Valentine's Day" special... special like those hairy wolf kids or the one with pincers.
'Freak' is a strong word... one you may have thought was your name in those formative years, but guess what - someone loves you. He loves you enough to make sure that you're taken care of, given the right education, a safe environment to hone your unique "ability" and best of all, he won't call you the f-word. Let me introduce you to Professor Charles Xavier... founder of the X-Men.
We're surrounded by mutants: nubbins, extra fingers, webbed feet, The Elephant Man... humanity has seen its fair share of mutations. It's more than that... anyone who's ever felt like an outcast for being different will have some idea of what it's like to be part of the X-Men. Our race has been quick to distance itself from the vulnerable, the sick and the deformed without realising that some of "them" may just be better than all of us. Lance Armstrong's massive heart gives him a competitive edge, but we don't call him a mutant - we call him a champion.
So it seems X-Men are not that far from the realm of reality, which is probably why the Marvel superhero series has been so successful with multiple heroes and several sequels, and a prequel in X-Men: First Class. The prequel sets about explaining how the X-Men came to be, under the tutelage of Professor X and his school for the gifted. X-Men: First Class examines the fraternity, its values, the struggle and gives us compelling evidence to demonstrate why Magneto and X are estranged friends rather than allies.
It's quite an important film in that it's responsible for refreshing the series. Now watching the X-Men saga again... it's the new insights from the prequel that make the dynamics all the more interesting like a contrast between the archangel Michael and Lucifer. Both cut from the same cloth, yet divided in their views to the point of being polar opposites.
The prequel, directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass), doesn't have the same cast as previous installations - opting for up-and-coming talents like James McAvoy as Professor X and Michael Fassbender as Magneto. The two have proved their worth in Hollywood, but aren't quite as polished as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen yet. It may be early days, but both stars don't have the draw or excitement associated with casting a Hugh Jackman or Halle Berry. Yet, they deliver the goods in conveying two complex co-lead characters.
The focus of the film lies with Erik Lehnsherr a.k.a. Magneto and explains his rise to power. The story weaves Nazi elements from Erik's childhood as a prisoner and experiment under the watchful eye of Sebastian Shaw, played by a sinister Kevin Bacon. The film cleverly draws on the CIA and old footage of Kennedy in the build-up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nuclear energy, technological breakthroughs and evil masterminds - this was the age of Sean Connery as James Bond.
The thread of Bond is established by casting Fassbender, who at times could easily be a worthy substitute or adversary for Daniel Craig as the vengeful Lehnsherr tracks down the man who killed his mother. Anchoring the story in history adds to the weight of the film and suspense of reality, making all the events seem quite plausible in effecting political change and sparking the possibility of a World War 3 between the Soviet Union and USA. That and the recurring theme of M.A.D.
X-Men: First Class also addresses Beast and Mystique's back story, padding the team with extra X-Men characters to support the action-adventure. New characters include: Banshee who is a Rupert Grint knock-off, Havoc something of a forefather to Cyclops and Emma Frost - another telepath to counter Professor X. The selection of new characters are fun, but only really serve to flesh out the teams, act as cannon fodder and provide students for X to start his school.
This prequel is grand in scale, moving from continent-to-continent as the Cuban Missile Crisis reaches melting point. The special effects and CGI has been handled quite beautifully without too much reason to doubt the wow factor. The styling also has a '60s edge, which thankfully doesn't go too Austin Powers... keeping the look reminiscent, but with a sleek contemporary feel.
X-Men: First Class is one of those rare films that actually meets expectations. As a prequel to the X-Men franchise and armed with an up-and-coming second-string cast, there's only so much they could do. Having Matthew Vaughn attached as director inspired much promise and you could say that casting: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Platt and Kevin Bacon echoed this payload of potential. It's a solid actioner with a strong science-fiction element that streamlines with history.
There are of course several cheesy moments, inside jokes and surprising cameos but the momentary lapses in intensity aren't jarring for a comic book movie. Just like Kick-Ass, it's not perfect... but is fresh with a strong presence, good performances and solid production values. The overall feeling is that X-Men: First Class delivers on entertainment value and stays true to the X-Men franchise. It's not as good as X2, but slots in quite nicely alongside X-Men and X-Men: The Last Stand. Oh and just so you know, there isn't a post credit clip.
The bottom line: Weighty.