“X-Men: First Class” Movie Review

     “X-Men First Class” functions as a prequel not to far off in similarity to “Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith.”  Much like the story of how Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker become enemies with Skywalker becoming Darth Vader, “First Class” tells the story of Charles Xavier befriending Erik Lehnsherr only to have their political views turn into a good versus evil scenario and the later becoming Xavier’s arch enemy Magneto.  For this origin story, producer Bryan Singer and director Matthew Vaughn bring things back to the 1960’s at the height of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Certainly a back drop worthy of intrigue as we witness the beginning and coming out party of our favorite mutants.

     As the tag lines go, before he was “Professor X”, he was Charles Xavier (James McAvoy from “Wanted”), a graduate student at Oxford University.  He is also telepathic.  Early in childhood, Xavier befriends Raven, a mutant who has the ability to mask her natural blue scaly form with the appearance of anyone she comes in contact with.  She is ultra sensitive about the way she looks at her young age and prefers to hide her looks so as to appear normal.  We first meet Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender from “Inglorious Basterds”) as a boy in a 1944 Nazi prison camp.  An evil Nazi associate, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) discovers Erik’s ability to control metal with his mind and uses him throughout his child hood to commit numerous evil deeds.  Ultimately, as an adult, Erik goes on a mission to find and kill Shaw and because Shaw also becomes involved with a plot to have the Russians place nuclear missiles in Cuba, this allows Erik to cross paths with Xavier and Raven who are working with the CIA.

     Together they form a team and recruit a mix of different mutants they find throughout the world, each with different abilities.  Conversely, it is revealed Shaw is a mutant as well and has also recruited a team that helps him with the plot to get both Russia and the United States to go to war.  Of course, the justification for all of this is because Shaw believes humans are out to destroy mutants and thus his mission is to eliminate man kind.  Xavier, as he does in the three “X-Men” films takes a much more covert and diplomatic approach with humans.  As is the case in real life, you have two sides with different beliefs who are willing to go to war over those beliefs.

     Matthew Vaughn, who brought us “Kick Ass” last year does a fine job developing these characters, showing us their beginnings.  There is a large part of the film dedicated to Xavier’s ability to mentor each of the mutants and he is shown to play a big part in the development of Erik’s powers.  Just as was the case with Anakin Skywalker; however, Erik has severe emotional problems due to a significant loss in his childhood.  A loss that fuels his anger and is too powerful to overcome.  Just as Anakin turned on his mentor, Obi Wan Kenobi, and becomes Darth Vader, Erik too turns on his mentor and becomes Magneto.  The parallels here cannot be denied.

     Because I’ve made this connection, it becomes incredibly difficult to give First Class many points for originality.  It’s kind of like “The Hangover 2” replicating the plot of “The Hangover”.  We’re looking at the exact same story arc as a Star Wars film.  If I let that be, I’ll say First Class is a fabulous entertainment.  Creatively directed and wonderfully acted.  The action set pieces in the film, especially the finale off the coast of Cuba are very well done and the proceedings do not go down the way the film’s trailer make you think they will.  The script is chalk full of scenes that foreshadow events you will already know about from the X-Men films and there’s even a hilarious cameo by one of your favorite mutants of the future.

     As Professor X, James McAvoy does an outstanding job channeling his inner Patrick Stewart as does Michael Fassbender with the young Magneto to be. As Raven / Mystique, Jennifer Lawrence (Oscar nominated for last year’s “Winter’s Bone”) shows a significant amount of growth as a mutant who cares only about her looks to a mutant who in the future will use them to further Magneto’s cause.  If I had one complaint about the film (aside from the Star Wars rip off), its that I could have done with out Kevin Bacon being cast as the main villain, Shaw.  I’m sorry, but I just can’t take Kevin Bacon serious anymore.  I can; however, see a lot more story to tell in the time frame between the 60’s and the present day setting of the X-Men films.  I’m thinking the battles between Professor X and Magneto will probably be pretty entertaining in their younger years where they’re presumably more powerful than the older versions we’ve already seen (similar to our two favorite Jedi!)  GRADE: B