After the cool reception of X-Men Origins: Wolverine the producers stepped back to determine their next step. So they went back to the drawing board. X-Men First Class starts at the beginning with a Young Charles Xavier and Magneto. It also gives an origin of sorts for Mystique. Oddly, for a character who mostly served a function of henchman for Magneto in the original series, the latest set of films are heavily focused on Mystique as a tortured soul torn between Professor X and Magneto. One of the interesting things that happened as the film came together was the return of Matthew Vaughn as a director. He dropped out of X3 for family reasons. Returning for First Class was a good move.
While the first trilogy gave no hint that Prof X and Mystique know each other, but early in the film we see them not only meet, but young Charles Xavier takes her in to live with him in his giant mansion. But the film opens with a faithful recreation of the first X-Men film’s opening. Young Magneto is brought into a concentration camp where he is seen as a great weapon by Nazi Officer Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). It is pretty clear that the X-Men Origins Magneto film morphed into this one and we get a well constructed scene where a grown up Magneto (now played by Michael Fassbender) finds two retired Nazis in a bar and torments them for information. We return to Charles Xavier (played by James McAvoy) with a full head of hair and Raven (Mystique, now played by Jennifer Lawrence). Xavier is recruited by the government for help regarding Sebastian Shaw, who has not aged a day. He is trying to play governments against each other in the midst of the cold war. The world does not know mutants are out there, but the government does and they want them. This help brings Professor X and Magneto together when Magneto tried to take down Shaw, messing up the sting.
They start working with CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) and A Man in a Suit (Oliver Platt) to locate new mutants. The entire time, Magneto struggles with his desire for revenge against Shaw. Raven finds herself drawn to Magneto’s pride as a mutant. Meanwhile, Shaw and his henchmen (Including Emma Frost, inexplicably a grown woman in a film set years earlier than X-Men Origins Wolverine) are working to incite nuclear war (the film is really set around the Cuban Missile Crisis).
Overall, First Class is fun, exciting and compelling. Magneto: Nazi Hunter is a great introduction. The collection of characters is an intriguing mix from the X-Men comics. You have longstanding members like Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Havok (Lucas Till) and newer characters such as Angel Salvadore (Zoë Kravitz) and Darwin (Edi Gathegi). The film is extremely well cast and is filled with strong performances. There is a lone exception. January Jones once claimed her ex Ashton Kutcher told her she cannot act. I am inclined to agree. Her Emma Frost is dull and lifeless. Emma Frost is a character who should be intensely arrogant and cold. And here she feels entirely inconsequential.
While the original films irked people with the leather outfits, this film pays homage to the early costumes, with black and yellow color schemes. This is one of the strongest films in the franchise, full of life and character. There is much to admire and enjoy with First Class.
There are some slipups in the choices they make, such as the film kills some characters with great potential for the old “See How Great the Danger Is?” It also just happens to be one of the few minority characters in the story.
And yet, it starts some continuity cracks. First Class is going back to the beginning, not pretending the first three films never happened. Moira McTaggert is a scientist in the third film, played by Olivia Williams. First class has the same character in another job altogether decades earlier. They use characters without concern for whether they appeared in the previous films with entirely different incarnations. Jubilee appeared in the third film ad then in Apocalypse. Apparently never aging. The quality of the film overcomes these issues, but it starts a series of problems.