The steady procession of super hero movies continues with the release of X-Men:First Class. It is an origin story of sorts as the film tells the story of how the X-Men came to be. More specifically, it weaves the tale of how Magneto and Professor X–otherwise known as Erik Leshner (Michael Fassbender) and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy)–came to be friends and within that story shows us the events that sparked their rivalry.
Set in the 1960’s around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis; X-Men: First Class centers on the two future leaders of the X-Men and The Brotherhood: Professor X and Magneto. For those unfamiliar with the comic book mythology, The Brotherhood is Magneto’s group of mutants who are constantly warring with the X-Men except in times when their purposes are identical.
From the beginning of the film there is evidence of a bitter contrast between the young life of Erik Leshner and that of Charles Xavier. While Charles grows up with comfort and luxury in a New England mansion, Erik is taken from his parents and treated like a lab rat by the Nazis. Because of these differences in upbringing, Charles learns to hope for an integration between humans and the more evolved mutants. Erik instead learns that non-mutants will fear mutant-kind and seek to eradicate them from existence.
These opposing viewpoints become a theme throughout the film as the other mutants are brought together and relate their experiences to one another. Each expressing how they struggle to be accepted by humans. For Mystique and Hank McCoy, they appear to bond over their fight to accept themselves since they both have physical mutations.
Erik and Charles are unified at first in bringing mutant kind together. They do so under the ever watchful eye of the United States government who recruit them to assemble a team of mutants to stop a man named Sebastian Shaw from starting a nuclear war between Russia and The United States. The dilemma, is that Shaw has his own mutants helping him. Hence the need for the “first class” of X-Men.
One thing the film does really well is illustrate the humanity of the mutants. These are unlike the traditional superheroes like Superman, Thor, Spiderman or The Incredible Hulk who are either from another world or develop superhuman powers after a freak accident. The “superheroes” in the X-Men universe are normal humans whose DNA contain a specific gene that causes a mutation in their body giving them extraordinary abilities. Because of this they deal with a whole different type of prejudice and the film hits the mark in how each character copes with their abilities.
The action is riveting and the visual effects are stunning. It is refreshing to see that Marvel refrained from converting the movie to 3D which would have been a distraction.
X-Men:First Class may be a comic book based film, but it is mainly a film that tackles the issue of the very human need for acceptance by peers, society and especially oneself and that desire for unity, because that is what the story of the X-Men has always been about. The pursuit of unity.
Go see it so that you can experience a great film whether you’re a fan of X-Men or not.