Film review – X Men: First Class

If you are one of those people who has waited even longer than I have to see this movie, don’t read on!

I always found it a bit amazing that with the popularity of the X-Men, it took so long to try and film them.  Now, it seems, they can’t stop.  The first three films weren’t bad, though the Wolverine film wasn’t so good.  It looks like they are back on track.

This film opens exactly where the first one did … same footage of Eric Lensher seeing his parents going off to the concentration camp, and in his attempt to pursue, his magnetic powers manifest themselves for the first time.  We then get to see what happened next: a young Nazi scientist asks him to repeat the trick.  When he can’t, he bring in his mother, and threatens to shoot her if he won’t … when he still can’t, he shoots her, and then young Eric lets his powers fly.

Meanwhile on a palatial estate in New York, young Charles Frances Xavier is awoken by a noise in the kitchen … he finds his mother there, and quickly realizes that it is not his mother, but an intruder who quickly reveals her self to be a very young Mystique.  Charles is thrilled to have finally found another mutant, and brings Mystique into the family as a new sister.

Fast forward to the 1960s.

Eric now has much greater control of his powers, and has one thing on his mind:  find the Nazi doctor who killed his mother.  Charles Xavier is meanwhile bedding babes at Oxford while working on his PhD, and not being the best of brothers to Mystique who lacks Xavier’s intellectual gifts, and is starting to resent that she has to hide in public while he doesn’t have to.

Meanwhile, the CIA is investigating an Army general who appears to be collaborating with the Russians.  It turns out he is collaborating with this Nazi doctor (who turns out to be a mutant), and some of his mutant friends.  He has the goal of starting a nuclear war in order to wipe out most of the human population, while inducing mutations in the rest … ironic that Eric also has a bad feeling about humanity, and is in constant conflict within himself over this and Xavier’s more humanistic approach to things.

Eric and Xavier finally meet and go to work for the CIA, recruiting their own army of mutants (though one old face rudely refuses to join them … at least for now).  This sets up the final battle as the Nazi doctor nicely arranges for the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the X-Men must save the day, but not, of course, before splintering.

It’s a solid film.  There is some action, but surprisingly little.  It is an origin story, but very different from similar films (like Spider-Man, Thor, or The Fantastic Four).  Rather, this film frames a genuinely intellectual conflict:  if mutants represent a next step in evolution, how wrong can it be to wipe out Homo sapiens, in much the way that Homo sapiens wiped out their predecessors?  If there is every indication that humanity will never accept those who are different, then don’t the different ones have an obligation to defend themselves?  While these are the deeper questions, one of the very best points of the X-Men is always about those who are different, and the need for them to be comfortable with who they are, and that there shouldn’t be a need to conform to a societal expectation (especially in terms of appearance).  This last point is summed up by the relationship between Mystique and Hank McCoy (aka “The Beast”), who cannot accept himself, and Eric, who helps Mystique to accept who she is, and thus gains a control over her.

There are nice effects, but nothing that couldn’t wait for a good DVD.  The majority of the film is set in the 1960s, and I thought that the production staff did a nice job of making things “feel” like the 1960s.

Perhaps nothing more felt like the 1960s than the film’s Nazi doctor villain played by non other than …. Kevin Bacon?  When I first  saw this, I had my doubts if he could pull it off (its one thing to have to play a villain, but another thing entirely to play one against all of the internal drama in the film which deals with the “good guys” being unable to quite get along).  However, Bacon pulls it off quite well.

There is some very mild sensuality and one f-bomb uttered by a certain cigar chomping mutant telling Xavier to go away … the violence is pretty stylized, so while the younger crowd might have a problem with it, I don’t think the pre-teens would be scarred for life.

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