X-Men: First Class, the fifth film in the X-Men series and second prequel, brings the fun back to this previously tired franchise. Following 2009’s uninspiring X-Men Origins: Wolverine, First Class returns to the 1960s and even World War II for the origins of Professor X, Magneto and their fellow mutants.
Before he becomes Professor X, telepath Charles Xavier is a young British genetics expert who already envisions a world where mutants won’t have to hide their powers. On the contrary, Erik Lehnsherr is an angry mutant obsessed with revenge. He’s using his telekinetic powers to pursue Nazis who slaughtered Jews, including his mother, during World War II.
At the height of the Cold War between the democratic west and Communist east, a threat to world peace makes Xavier and Lehnsherr allies.
James McAvoy strikes the right magnanimous tone as Xavier, a soothing influence upon the normally enraged Nazi hunter Lehnsherr. Michael Fassbender plays Lensherr with a smoldering undercurrent of danger and unpredictability that recalls the young Sean Connery. He’d make a good James Bond.
While Lehnsherr’s target No. 1, a power-hungry Nazi doctor played by Kevin Bacon, goes about the business of starting World War III, Xavier and Lensherr embark upon a federally sanctioned mutant recruiting drive. At this early point in mutant history, the better angels among the powers that be in the United States and the Soviet Union have yet to be overruled by prejudice, paranoia and politics.
Despite the four previous X-Men movies, First Class is a fresh installment of the series. The young mutants Xavier and Lensherr locate - Banshee, Havoc, Darwin, Beast, blue girl Raven and others - are still learning what they’re capable of. It’s thrilling for them and fun to watch their progress.
First Class persuasively presents Xavier and Lehnsherr as colleagues united against Bacon’s Nazi-turned-super-rich Miami resident Sebastian Shaw. A psychopath who’s supremely confident in his enormous powers, Shaw, endowed by the smirking Bacon with dripping smugness, is easy to dislike.
X-Men: First Class, a superhero-action movie that makes room for character development as well action, stages a climactic battle scene that both entertains and sets the stage for the series’ non-prequels.
There is something satisfying about seeing events that set the stage for the X-Men action that will follow.