By Todd Matthy

Between the Thor’s, Green Lantern’s, and Captain America’s of this summer it seems a new X-Men movie has been overlooked. After two blockbusters, an average third installment, a prequel some consider a disappointment, and the lack of “big name” X-Men like Cyclops, Storm, and Wolverine, it’s easy to see why many have written off X-Men: First Class before they’ve seen it. So does X-Men: First Class save the franchise or bury it? The answer is it does.

Warning: Spoilers:

Set in the sixties, X-Men: First Class focuses on how Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik “Magneto” Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) and how they not only formed the X-Men but also the end of their friendship. In the beginning, Erik is a Nazi hunter out to kill Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) who shot his mother in order for Erik to unleash his powers. He finds out that Shaw is running the Hellfire Club, an exclusive “gentlemen’s club” run by several mutants including Azazel (Jason Flemyng), Riptide (Alex Gonzalez), and Emma Frost the White Queen (January Jones). Meanwhile, Charles Xavier is a hard drinking, womanizing, student at Oxford, about to become a professor when Agent Moira MacTaggert contacts him. (Rose Bryne) Xavier’s partying days are over and he recruits a team consisting of Havok (Lucas Till), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Angel (Zoe Kravitz), Darwin (Edi Gathegi), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and Charles’ childhood friend Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) who team with Erik to counter the Hellfire Club, who are behind the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I never thought of Professor Xavier as a ladies man, but McAvoy makes me believe it. I loved how he explained mutation to girls as his pick up line. We watch as Xavier goes from party boy to the leader of a race and it is McAvoy’s acting that carries us through this journey through his inflections and actions. Fassbender’s Magneto is intense and sympathetic, which is how I expect Magneto to be. January Jones’ Emma Frost was on point. She was dry and sexy and walked with ”I’m better then you” arrogance. I hope to see more of her in a sequel.  I enjoyed Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique. Her emotional tug of war brings a heart to the story that the third installment and Wolverine lacked. Effects wise, the flying sequences with Banshee were some of the best I’ve ever seen on screen. Zack Snyder should pay attention. Oh and there are a couple of cameos to keep an eye out for, including one of a certain mutant who’s short in stature and temper.

First Class has a little bit of an identity crisis in that I can’t tell if it’s a prequel or a reboot. It’s a prequel in the sense that it answers many questions people have about the X-Men franchise. How Charles was crippled, how Magneto got his helmet, the creation of Cerebro, all the answers are there. It even maintains the tone of the previous films, sometimes references them in it’s own way. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it.  On the other hand, there is relationship between Charles and Mystique that places it into reboot territory. At no point in the X-Men movies was there ever a hint that Charles and Mystique were best friends/brother and sister. Not even a hint of it. I don’t know who came up with that plot element but if you’re doing a prequel, a change like that is pretty big and can take people out of the story. This is not necessarily a bad thing it’s just something that stood out to me.

Overall, X-Men: First Class was a pleasant surprise that is worth seeing. The action and effects are great and the lead actors nail their parts. The X-Men franchise has returned.

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