(dir. Matthew Vaughn, 2011)
I've always thought adapting the X-Men mythos was a particularly hard undertaking, as proven in spades in the previous four attempts. Unlike other superhero or comic books heroes, the X-Men aren't just one character and a bunch of villains, but rather a bunch of heroes and a bunch of villains, all of which need to be fleshed out well. And that hasn't really been done, despite a whole four films trying to do that with Wolverine.
But nevertheless apt director Matthew Vaughn (of Kick-Ass fame) has managed to do it. And quite successfully I might add. Aided by a veritable pantheon of screenwriters (Vaughn himself, Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Sheldon Turner, and Bryan Singer), a rich and complex tale has emerged. It's slowly becoming a trend to start the movies much the ways the comic themselves have started, with an origin story. See: Batman Begins, Iron Man, Thor, etc. And now the marvelous X-Men: First Class.
We first meet Erik Lehnsherr (played as an adult by best-in-show winner Michael Fassbender) in a Nazi concentration camp (the exact way the original franchise began), where when he's separated from his mother, exhibits his mutant ability. Eventually his mother is murdered and he tortured by Nazi doc Kevin Bacon (who is simply wonderful as the film's primary villain), and thus Erik is turned into a human-hating mutant hellbent on revenge. But in a nice way. Just take my word on that.
Around the same time a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) meets a blue shape-shifter (Jennifer Lawrence) in his kitchen, and the two become good friends. As the film unfolds, the actual plot (mutants are trying to start the Cuban Missile Crisis, causing a nuclear war, where the mutants will take over!) takes a backseat to a very carefully and astutely crafted story about acceptance and love, forgiveness and being true to yourself. Ultimately some mutants accept who they are, boldly becoming what will known as the evil Brotherhood of Mutants and the others regroup and become the heroic X-Men. It's so finely crafted that you feel for the supposed-villains by the end of it all, and we have one of the very first comic book films where the ends to justify the means as far as villains so.
All in all, X-Men: First Class smashes all it's objectives: establishing backstory, developing characters, entertaining, and setting up the X-Men we know and love today. But most importantly, it has laid the ground work for the central theme that was more or less devoid from the other franchise and was forever omnipresent in the comics and TV series: acceptance. How is society accepting these freaks? Am I a freak? Is it easy being blue? There's even the division between those mutant who can hide their ability and those who are stuck with it out in the open. Themes of race, gender, and sexuality are all applicable to this film and it's handling it just beautiful. From an X-Men, this film get a mighty bravo. GRADE: B+