Surprisingly, this is an exceptionally hard movie for me to review. The reason for this is because I liked it a lot, but having just seen it, I find myself wanting to nitpick the hell out of it. Fact of the matter is that I've read my fair share of X-Men comics. I know the characters, their personalities, the many hundreds of story arcs. I also saw the other X-Men oriented movies; I saw the trilogy as well as that travesty they called X-Men Origins: Wolverine. So I came into this well prepared, in other words.
And I can say definitively that this is one of the best comic book movies out there. The movie is stylish, sexy, and an action-packed masterpiece that largely manages to do credit to quite the ensemble cast. It takes characters we are familiar with, Professor X and Magneto, and manages to make them and their early lives quite compelling. I was skeptical that the shoes worn by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen could be filled effectively once more, but I'm mostly convinced that James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender pulled it off with aplomb.
However, I still think that X2 (the appropriate moniker for the second X-Men film of the original trilogy) is the best of them. I hope to explain this as my review goes on.
Mutants of another Era
X: Men: First Class shows us events from World War II and the Cold War, revealing the early lives of Professor X and Magneto. These two are widely regarded as the most powerful mutants of them all, and their clashes of personal philosophies are what make them among the most memorable of characters. Xavier wants to live in a world where mutants and humans can coexist, where they can combine efforts to make the world a better place. To that end, Xavier seeks to create teams of such powered individuals that can oppose chaotic forces and save lives. On the other hand, Magneto believes that mutants shouldn't have to work at it to be accepted into human society. He wants a world where humans either accept without reservations the presence of such individuals on Earth or a world where humans are replaced by mutants. Though it sounds harsher, Magneto's philosophy is a lot more attractive to those who want to take pride in who they are without hesitance. Both points of view are interesting and both have something in common: wanting to make the world a better place. Thus it is tragic that these two men end up fighting in the end. To my eyes, First Class' job was to focus on these two and the differences between them that end in conflict.
Instead, the majority of the film is focused on the threat presented by Sebastian Shaw and the Hellfire Club. This is not a bad thing, exactly. Shaw, played by Kevin Bacon, of all people, seeks power that can be found by, from what I understood, manipulating nations so that humanity would destroy itself and leave the world to the mutants. To that point, he is a mouthpiece for Magneto's extremist philosophy before Magneto himself has decided firmly upon it. Shaw himself provides quite an immense threat, and it becomes clear early on that he cannot be taken lightly. Shaw and his team are vicious, dangerous, and make the X Men look like jokes; perfect for a great villain. He also serves as the target point for Magneto's hatred, which culminates bloodily at the end of the film. Everything about this guy and his team reminded me of a Bond villain, which somehow suited perfectly.
In addition, First Class shows us the early mutants and Xavier's first attempts to educate them to use their powers for good. This is often hilarious, and the movie takes a lighthearted and exciting take on things. It is hard to pinpoint exactly, but something about the movie and the mutants within it seem reminiscent of the heady days of living life to the fullest. It is almost as if the mental maturity of every mutant in the film (including Professor X, at times) is that of a horny college student. The scene where they all show off their powers and end up partying comes to mind. Professor X's hilarious womanizing also provides an example. It is bizarrely refreshing, and makes the events that occur alternate between feeling like a Bond movie and a teenage comedy.