I think it’s a safe assumption to make that most of the people who will go to see “X-Men: First Class” are either a) familiar with the comic book series, or b) have seen the previous three “X-Men” films. I was never into the comic book series myself (most of the titles I read were DC), but I’ve seen the earlier films and I’m familiar enough with the back-story to know what’s going on.
“First Class” takes place in 1962, around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The movie begins by filling in some of the back-story – the opening scene where Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender, taking over for Ian McKellen) and his family are brought to the concentration camp is almost identical to the opening scene of the first “X-Men” flick, but “First Class” goes on to provide much more background on what happened to Erik and his family while there. Meanwhile, we learn a great deal more about Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, in the Patrick Stewart role), and his relationship with Raven (later to become Mystique). We meet mutants that we haven’t seen in any of the earlier movies, and we’re introduced to a truly bad guy (well-played by Kevin Bacon) for whom it is impossible to generate even an ounce of sympathy.
The key to a movie like this is how well it accomplishes the journey – because every X-Men fan who walks into the theater is going to know how things end. We know that Erik and Charles will split up, and we know that some mutants will follow Erik, while others will stay with Charles. We know that Raven will become Mystique and leave the man she loves like a brother. And of course, we know that Charles will end up in a wheelchair, and open his school for “gifted students.” So all the viewer really needs to know is – does the movie accomplish all of these things in a way that makes you care?
I’m pleased to say that the answer is “yes.” Although Erik and Charles have a fundamentally different outlook on human nature and the means by which to approach the “normal” world, they recognize their bond, and the moment when Erik recognizes that he is responsible for what happens to Charles packs quite an emotional punch. As does the moment when Raven/Mystique chooses Erik over Charles, who for all she knows is lying there dying.
So I have no reservations saying that “First Class” is a worthy addition to the X-Men canon.