X-Men: First Class doesn't live up to its title

The acting almost saves this 1960s-set prequel.

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X-Men: First Class, the highly anticipated prequel to the X-Men trilogy, left me underwhelmed. As someone whose avid interest in the crime-fighting team of mutants was sparked by the original X-Men (2000) and who thoroughly enjoyed all three original films (yes, even the third one), I suppose my expectations were simply too high.

This film, directed by Michael Vaughn (Kick-Ass), is set during the early 1960s, the peak of the Cold War between Russia and the United States. We see the beginnings — some true to the comics and others not — of several familiar characters, including Professor X (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult). These four, along with some other inexperienced mutants, become involved with a CIA operation trying to prevent a nuclear war that is being designed and instigated by fellow mutants. We watch as these characters struggle with their identities and ideologies as mutated outcasts, as well as with each other. Should they hide their true selves or be proud? Should they trust the humans who fear and loathe them? Can they? It's a familiar — and tired — trope in the series, and it's more transparent than ever.

Of course, we know how it ends. You don't have to be a comic book nerd to know that ultimately Charles and Erik become enemies poised on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum, each with their loyal followers. This film, however, promised to show us how the two men got there. And unfortunately I just didn't buy what X-Men: First Class was selling. Sure, the movie shows how the men became friends and then enemies. I saw that; I just couldn't feel it. The character development was largely superficial, and I didn't believe that two very different men could become so close in such a short amount of time. If the plot had been extended over a greater length of time, it might have worked.

In an interview with Total Film magazine last month, Vaughn likened First Class to Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. Vaughn stated that in this film he took time to introduce the characters, much like the way Nolan introduces Bruce Wayne, and having gotten that out of the way the second film will be a fast-paced, "rollicking good time." After seeing First Class, it's fair to say that Vaughn never reaches the artistic height or depth of character that Nolan achieves. Although, if it's true that the second film will be more action-packed, hopefully it will at least be more entertaining than its predecessor.

Don't get me wrong, for a summer blockbuster X-Men: First Class is sufficiently entertaining. There is drama and action, and not to mention attractive, talented young actors like McAvoy (Wanted, Atonement), and relative newcomers like Lawrence (who was nominated for an Academy Award this year for her performance in Winter's Bone) and Fassbender (Inglorious Basterds). The acting is the best part of the film, overcoming the superficial character development and weak, disjointed plot. Given a better script and plot, this origin story could have been exceptional. As it is, X-Men: First Class is just a mediocre opening act in what will most likely be yet another X-Men trilogy.

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