(Comic book action, PG-13, 130 minutes)
In nature, every time a being evolves into a superior form it instinctively wipes out its less-dominant predecessor. "X-Men: First Class" begs the question: When superhuman mutants come out of hiding, is peace with humans possible?
According to Magneto, "peace was never an option."
"X-Men: First Class" breathes new life into the X-Men franchise by telling the old story of Charles Xavier (or Professor X, played by James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (or Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender), two brilliant mutants with two completely different backgrounds: Charles grew up privileged while Erik grew up through the horrors of the Holocaust.
They are both somewhat lost in the film's first act. Charles flirts with women in pubs while pursuing his academics. Erik is self-described as Frankenstein's monster seeking out his creators - the Nazi doctors responsible for his torture. Most mutants at this time believe their superhuman abilities are an oddity and they're the only one of their kind. Upon meeting, Charles and Erik bond over having incredible mutant abilities and a strong desire to lead humankind - Charles by setting a positive example and Erik by might. Charles and Erik's ideals, while lining up for awhile, eventually lead to a line in the sand moment that will lead them to become archenemies in later X-Men installments.
It's the 1960s and tension is mounting over the threat of nuclear war between two superpowers: United States and Russia. And pulling the strings on both sides is a powerful mutant named Sebastian Shaw (played by Kevin Bacon), a mutant with the desire to kill off humans so the mutant race can rule. Shaw surrounds himself with an entourage of mutants: Riptide (played by Alex Gonzalez), Azazel (played by Jason Flemyng) and the sultry Emma Frost (played by January Jones). After Shaw intimidates both nations into making aggressive movements of arms, the stage is set for a confrontation in what will come to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
On the other side of the fray, Charles, Erik, Charles' "sister" Raven (or Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence) and their CIA agent pals Moira MacTaggert (played by Rose Byrne) and MIB (played by Oliver Platt), begin searching for mutants to help. The team first randomly meets Hank McCoy (or Beast, played by Nicholas Hoult), a young CIA scientist hiding his mutation. Hank develops a mind-enhancing device named Cerebro that helps Charles stretch his psychic reach across the globe to locate other mutants.
Among Charles' first class of recruits is Darwin (played by Edi Gathegi), Banshee (played by Caleb Landry Jones), Angel Salvadore (played by Zoe Kravitz, the daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet) and Havok (played by Lucas Till, a graduate of Marietta's Kell High School in 2008 who has starred in films such as "Battle: Los Angeles," "The Spy Next Door" and "Hannah Montana: The Movie").
An all-out battle ensues between Shaw's band of mutants and Charles' gifted youngsters, with a rift that sets Charles and Erik on their paths to become Professor X and Magneto.
Director Matthew Vaughn (director of "Kick-Ass" and "Layer Cake") and producer/co-writer Bryan Singer (director of "X-Men" and "X2: X-Men United") wanted to give the film an international feel. Casting British exports McAvoy and Fassbender as the leads and building sets reminiscent of James Bond films helped give the film a European edge. Not to mention the film was shot all over the world, including Argentina, London, Switzerland, Russia and Georgia's own Jekyll Island.
"X-Men: First Class" reboots the X-Men series but never parts ways with its core themes of acceptance, justice and the struggle with identity. Its themes are especially relevant considering the national and local dialogue regarding immigration. While subtly posing such questions, it also answers a few: How did Professor X end up in a wheelchair? How did Beast get blue fur? How did the X-Men come together?
While much better than "X-Men: The Last Stand," "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and even the first "X-Men," I would hesitate to say the X-Men franchise saved the best for first.
The film is dead-even with "X2: X-Men United" in its mix of action and levity and its overall scope. Before Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight," "X2" was hailed by many as the best comic book movie of all time, and while a great movie, "First Class" doesn't quite surpass "X2."
"X-Men: First Class" has summer blockbuster appeal with the sensibilities of a character-driven independent film. It's one of the best prequels ever made with an ambitious story line that manages to propel action and emotion while thoughtfully introducing the audience to a slew of characters, both ones that we know in later X-Men movies and ones we are meeting for the first time.
The film also includes a bevy of star cameos that are just too good to reveal. Summer has a first class film on its hands and only time will tell if the next X-Men movie will wipe out its predecessor.