X-Men: First Class is, surprisingly, not a reboot of the X-Men film franchise. Instead, it’s an origin story. It easily could be a reboot, and since there’s likely to be a sequel to it, you could look at it in that light. But it slots itself very nicely into the timeline and continuity of previous X-Men films, save for some minor details that will only really annoy the most devoted of fans.
The story begins in the 1940’s, but it doesn’t linger there. We first witness a young Erik Lehnsherr (who grows up to be played by Michael Fassbender) being tortured at a Nazi concentration camp. Then we cut to a young Charles Xavier (soon to be James McAvoy) who finds a thief in his house. He has telekinesis, and reads the mind of this person. She shape-shifts into a blue humanoid, and tells him that her name is Raven (Jennifer Lawrence plays the adult version of this character). They become friends.
We then fast-forward approximately 20 years to see what the grown-up characters have done with their lives. Xavier and Raven are still close, referring to each other as brother and sister. They are contacted by a CIA agent (Rose Byrne) who wants help to stop Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw from possibly starting World War 3. Well, it doesn’t start this way — she initially just wants to know if mutants can exist — but that’s how it turns out. Erik also wants Shaw dead, so he joins Xavier, Raven, the CIA and a handful of other mutants in order to take Shaw down before he starts another war.
If First Class has one main problem, it’s that some of the tension that it tries to bring to the table is negated by the fact that the previous films do exist. To an extent, we’re aware of how the film will end, and this makes some scenes come out as less exciting than they really should be. We know that, at some point or another, Erik will become the bad guy Magneto. We know that his and Charles’ friendship won’t last forever. Knowing this outcome means that we also know they survive past the ending of this film.
Now, I’ll admit that, for the most part, this doesn’t matter. The vast majority of this film is still really intense and will keep you on the edge of your seat. Even in times when there isn’t one single goal or threat, you won’t be able to take your eyes off it. For a film that lasts over two hours long, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. The pacing if phenomenal, with there rarely, if ever, being a dull moment.
See, this isn’t a film about the destination, as we already know, roughly, what that is; we’ve had four previous films to fill us in on what ends up happening. No, First Class is a film about the journey, and more importantly, the relationship between our two main characters, Charles and Erik. They are opposites who are both striving for one goal, but they’re still opposites. We’re never sure of when Erik might turn, or if Charles will try to stop him when he does. We’re not even sure if Charles can stop him, which, in a sense, further increases the tension. At times, having an idea of how it ends actually increases the excitement felt during some of the scenes. Not always, as some become silly and kind of pointless, but sometimes it does work that way.
The absolute pinnacle of the film comes from a scene where Erik walks into a bar, and confronts some of the people who mistreated him and his family in the past. Not only is this scene full of tension and excitement, but it also gives us a deep insight into how far Erik will go in avenging his lost youth and parents. It is by far the best scene in the entire movie, save possibly for a 10-second cameo that I will not spoil because of how hilarious and awesome it is.
The X-Men movies have always had a lot of action sequences, and First Class is no exception. While there are some moments when there isn’t much action, (and these scenes were often more entertaining), the action scenes here are quite well-done. They’re entertaining, they make sure that the audience doesn’t get put into a lull, and they allow each character to show of his or her unique abilities. Some of which are quite neat, like Havok, who can send energy blasts from his body, but others are kind of pathetic, like the mutant who can scream at a high frequency. And apparently fly with this ability. Yeah, that’s not all that impressive in when compared to the other mutants that have been involved in this series at one time or another.
X-Men: First Class is not a film you should watch for the ending. If you’ve seen any of the previous X-Men films, you’ll have a vague idea of how it concludes. Instead, you need to watch it for its beginning and middle, because these parts are definitely worth it. The two leads have a good chemistry, and scenes in which all they do is talk about the future are full of intensity. The action scenes are entertaining, as are the scenes without special effects flying around the screen. I definitely recommend that you go see First Class, especially if you are a fan of the X-Men franchise so far. And if you haven’t seen any of the films, start with this one, and work your way through afterwards; I’m almost certain this will get you interested enough to do so.