Set during the Cold War, the story follows Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), a geeky Oxford biologist, and the brooding Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), a tortured soul with a dark past, as they meet and work together to recruit fellow mutants and help the CIA to prevent a nuclear war with the Soviets. As in the previous films, villainous mutants, most notably the sinister Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), try to thwart the heroes’ efforts to aid the non-mutant humans.
While neither Xavier, the future Professor X, nor Lehnsherr, the would-be Magneto, had particularly happy childhoods, Erik’s experiences in the Nazi concentration camp have, understandably, warped him. The skilled actors portray both Xavier and Lehnsherr’s emotions beautifully as Xavier tries desperately to save his tormented friend from his past.
The film also gives viewers an interesting look into the sixties – complete with tiny miniskirts, loud wall-paper and footage of President Kennedy. Again, detailed make-up and stunning CGI transform normal humans into fantastical beings – the highlight being the winged mutant Angel (Zoë Kravitz – three guesses whose daughter she is!).
Speaking of beautiful creatures, on a more superficial level, the cast provided a smorgasbord for the eyes – for the ladies, either McAvoy or the multilingual Irish-German Fassbender will appeal, and plucky newcomer Jennifer Lawrence as Raven, later Mystique, and Rose Byrne as the gutsy CIA agent Moria MacTaggert will provide some visual stimulation for the guys.
The themes that run through all the films in the series – that of dealing with being different and, of course, how one treats people who are different are remain pertinent in a world filled with xenophobia, racism and prejudices of every kind. The film also addresses the notion of letting go of past experiences instead of letting them consume one.
The only small complaint I have with this film is that it features an event, which I will not give away for fear of spoiling the story, that does that does not tie up with the chronology of the rest of the series. It's a minor niggle (in my humble opinion) and something I would not have realised had I not seen X-Men: The Last Stand a few days after viewing First Class.
Having not seen Wolverine – soon to be addressed (!) – I believe this to be the best installment in the X-Men series behind the first film. The storyline provides just the right combination of drama, comedy and explosive action – a definite must-see for the big screen.