Superhero Summer continues with another Marvel movie: X-Men: First Class, the latest prequel and proposed "reboot" of the X-Men movie franchise! Since X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) was a failed finale to the X-Men Trilogy, the producers of the X-Men movies have focused their efforts on prequels, i.e. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). X-Men: First Class is essentially a new beginning as we set up the origin stories of Prof. X and Magneto and how the X-Men got started. The movie takes place around the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as the newly formed X-Men (now mostly teenagers) go on their first mission! The movie begins with a prologue from several POVs, the first surprisingly enough is a very familiar scene, the opening to the original X-Men movie in Poland, 1944 (re-shot almost entirely scene for scene), where a young Erik Lehnsherr (now played by Bill Milner) after bending the metal gates at a Nazi Concentration Camp, is separated from his parents only to be brought to a mysterious German scientist who wants to use his "gifts" to his advantage, using threats to spark anger from the young mutant to reveal his powers. Later we are taken from the horrors of WWII to a luxurious mansion in England where we meet a young Charles Xavier (Laurence Belcher) accidentally meets a familiar shape-shifting mutant named Raven, a.k.a. Mystique (Morgan Lily)! Years later, we see an older Xavier (James McAvoy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) celebrating his graduation from Cambridge, not quite yet the "professor" that we have come to love, instead he irresponsibly uses his telepathy and his nerdy knowledge of genetics to pick up girls at bars! While Xavier is abusing his power and new-found academic achievements, on the other side of the world we have an older Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) who seeks revenge on the Nazis who killed his family in a never-ending search for the mysterious scientist who we later on find out is none other than Sebastian Shaw, (Kevin Bacon? Yep, that's right, Kevin Bacon!) of the Hellfire Club along with his henchman Riptide (Álex González) and very seductive henchwoman: Emma Frost (January Jones), a.k.a. The White Queen! While Erik tries to find Shaw, he's not the only one as the CIA is also on his trail as Agent/Dr. Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) goes undercover to find out his diabolical, world-dominating plan. While the government enlists the help of Charles Xavier to find Shaw, during the chase Charles meets Erik by accident and they later form a friendship and go around the world to recruit other young mutants such as Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Havok (Lucas Till) and Angel (Zoë Kravitz, daughter of Lenny Kravitz!). Soon they form a "school" for mutants and thus the X-MEN are born! Unfortunately, they have very little time to train before they have to save the world from Nuclear War between the U.S. and Russia!
Although rebooting a movie franchise is difficult, particularly with comic book movies, as there have been some successes (Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008)) and some failures (Superman Returns (2006)). While the main focus of the story is the relationship between Xavier and Magneto, there is this very odd love triangle involving Mystique. Both movie and comic fans are already familiar with the complex history between Xavier and Magneto, whereas Xavier, the more peaceful leader, has always been the Martin Luther King Jr. of mutants, whereas Magneto, a more violent activist, remains the Malcolm X of mutants. These philosophical differences between these two "old friends" has always been at the core of the X-Men story. While Xavier has always been one to seek mutant acceptance and understanding from humans in a world that hates and fears them; Magneto on the other hand, has always sought to make mutants the dominate species, believing them to be better than humans, and if that means getting rid of normal humans, so be it. Charles McAvoy (who isn't new to comic book movies, having played Wesley in Wanted (2008)) makes a pretty decent Prof. X, although he is first presented as somewhat immature. Michael Fassbender's performance as Erik/Magneto is excellent (and being born in Germany helps too)! This movie adds a whole new level to their relationship, by putting Mystique in the mix. Already a popular character/villain in the previous movies, there was never much to her back story. While in the comics it's very clear over the last 30 years with her involvement with Rogue and of all things, being the mother of Nightcrawler, however being that the movie continuity and comic continuity are two completely different things, the movie is free to do with these characters as they please!
At first, the dynamic between these two unlikely friends is perplexing and to those X-Men fans already scratching their heads saying: "How could Xavier and Mystique have been friends as children?" is well founded. As the two develop a sort of brother and sister relationship forming a close bond, Xavier vows to "help" Raven become more normal. However, enter the "bad boy": Magneto and his insistence that Mystique need not "hide" behind her shape-shifting powers and remain in her true (blue) form. Although the X-Men Universe is filled with many mutant characters that have yet been given life on the big screen, you may be thinking how many more mutants could there be? The addition of Angel (definitely NOT the feather-winged Angel from the original team or X-Men 3 movie (played by none other than Ben Foster) and with the addition of other more obscure characters like Riptide and Azazel, is it possible they have run out of mutants?
I have to admit, I had some reservations on this new X-Men, fearing that it would try to appeal to a more teenage audience, not unlike the Twilight or Harry Potter movies. While the original 60's X-Men comic featured teenage superheroes, the movies, beginning with X-Men in 2000, featured more of the adult characters such as Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm and of course Wolverine. (SPOILER ALERT: As a matter of fact, good old Hugh Jackman makes a very brief but hilarious cameo as Wolverine in this movie!) While the trilogy did feature some of the teenage mutant characters such as Rogue, Iceman and Shadowcat, they did not feature prominently in the movies. With this movie, the producers of the franchise sought to return to it's teenage roots with a fresh start with a younger ensemble cast (See Photo), plus the addition of a popular up and coming director, Matthew Vaughn who directed Kick-Ass (2010).
X-Men: First Class is a breath of fresh air in an already overwhelming genre! As we prepare for even more Superhero/Marvel movie mania in the near future such as The Avengers (2012), this movie, despite being a reboot, just goes to show how much a fresh start can revitalize a fickle franchise. Only the box office knows for sure...