If a new species is being discovered, it should be by its' own kind.
The movie begins in 1940s Poland, during the Nazi reign of the Third Reich and enslavement of the Jews. It bridges the gap from the first X-Men film, as it shows Erik using his power of magnetism for the first time, and even reuses most of the shots from the scene of him bending the concentration camp gate. The difference in this movie is that it shows what happens directly following this event, and how it cultivates into Erik's beliefs of the world's view on mutants. The audience also gets to see a young Xavier taking in Raven as an adopted sister, which may or may not be non-canon. Fast-forward approximately 12 years and we get to the main story.
The film is basically "X-Men Origins: Magneto," with some X-kids peppered in there. That is to say, it's the story of how Charles and Erik became friends, began the X-Men, and became enemies due to different belief systems on global mutant acceptance. It mostly deals with Erik Lensherr's painful journey, and Xavier's attempts to reach out to him. Together, and with the help of Dr. Hank McCoy, they discover the origins of Cerebro, the SR-71 Blackbird (also sometimes known as the X-Jet), and begin training their first group of mutants to control their powers in concentrated use. They become the X-Men, and plant most of the seeds that set up the main trilogy.
The mutants under Xavier and Erik are: Hank McCoy/Beast, Sean Cassidy/Banshee, Alex Summers/Havok, and Raven Darkholme/Mystique. The villains are the Hellfire Club, which, ironically, appear as part of the Dark Phoenix story arc in the comics and should have been in the third X-Men film. They consist of Sebastian Shaw, Emma Frost/The White Queen, Riptide, a female character named Angel (who is a life-size resemblance of the Avenger, Wasp, and has crossed sides), and a demon-looking teleporter named Azazel (Nightcrawler's father, anyone?). For the most part, the villains are weak, and the plot suffers because of it. Think about this: If it wasn't Kevin Bacon, would the threat really be a threat, or just come off as silly? Ian McKellen was a threat for three, count them, three movies. Kevin Bacon? He barely succeeds for one. If it were a lesser-known actor, you can forget it. I am not one to think that the actors make a movie what it is or what it can be, but that the characters and story do that, as good as the writer can write them, and actors can only add to what is written in the script. Sometimes the richness of the story and characters can overshadow actors' star potentials. And when it happens vice versa, where the actors overshadow, I think that only subtracts from the movie experience. I would have rather seen Sebastian Shaw as the villain, and not Kevin Bacon playing Kevin Bacon with powers. But it doesn't help, either, when the character just isn't that good in the script to begin with, as Shaw was in this case.
There is also major continuity error. In this film, Xavier and Lensherr are seen recruiting mutants to their school, and to be potential X-Men. They are both young and Xavier is not bald. In the flashback scene at the beginning of "X-Men: The Last Stand," when they recruit Jean Grey/The Phoenix, they are older and Xavier is bald. Also there is the dilemma of Emma Frost. In "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," she appears as a young teenager and is Kayla Silverfox's sister. Let's just pretend for a moment that that movie chronologically takes place before this film. Then there is still the continuity error at the end of "Wolverine" that shows Xavier by a helicopter collecting the kids to take to his school, and has Emma Frost going with them to eventually become an X-Man. Yet in this film, she doesn't recognize Xavier when she is captured, not to mention that Xavier did not start collecting mutants to train until "First Class," so that would have never taken place years earlier when she was just a teen. So then, if "First Class" comes first, then Emma Frost somehow de-aged from a woman in her thirties to a pre-teenager... (mind becomes boggled)... See what I mean? Fox is retarded for not thinking things through and just hiring any Joe Schmo's to write their scripts. Imagine what the X-Men films could have been under Marvel Studios. Yes, it took the first X-Men and Spider-Man films to even get the financing to back Marvel's own motion picture studio, but it doesn't hurt to wonder.
Story: Comic Comparison
In contrast with the comic book series of the same name, this film differs greatly. The "First Class" of X-Men were the originals: Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman, and Angel (Warren Worthington III). And while I was hoping for younger versions of the characters which appeared in other films, such as Tim Poc*ck as Scott Summers/Cyclops in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," there was simply no way it was going to happen. Any way you slice it, the X-Men films are completely out of continuity with each other and their source material. The only thing tying this film to its comic roots, besides the 1963 blue and yellow costumes, is the character and origin of Beast. And while he looks drastically different than the Beast in X3 (played wonderfully by Kelsey Grammar), it's simply because they went with the catlike appearance from the early comic books. Emma Frost is more on par with the comic roots of the character (not necessarily the story of First Class) than the previous X-Men origin film she was in, as Emma starts off her history as a villain with the Hellfire Club, before becoming an X-Man and dating Cyclops after Jean Grey's death. The character of Moira is also nostalgic to the comics. But Moira MacTaggert is not American, nor did she ever work for the Central Intelligence Agency. Also, as far as I know, she never helped fly the Blackbird or go on the X-Men's first missions. I'm sorry but she is not an X-Man, she helps Charles in the beginning, but she is a mere human being, and does not belong on the battlefield. She is a doctor and scientist who conducts research on the bettering of mutantkind and works on Muir Island. Moira is important to the story of the X-Men, however, as she is Charles' girlfriend before he goes off to war (which they skipped the war story in this film), was going to marry him, and later is his best friend and ally. They pay a subtle homage to that. She is of English descent, though, and speaks with a British accent, which they did right in "X-Men: The Last Stand," but for some strange reason, retconned her character to American here (see the part about all X-films being out of continuity). Alex Summers, Cyclops' close-in-age brother in the comics (notice they both have beam blasts for powers?), is retconned in this film also. As if they made him Cyke's father, I'm unsure, since the setting is supposed to be the '60s. They also give Xavier hair. My point being, is that it all just falls short of what it rightfully should be.
James McAvoy as Charles Xavier: McAvoy plays a young, pre-wheelchaired Xavier, recently receiving his certification as a Professor of Genetics. His acting isn't as solid as Patrick Stewart's (but whose is?), but he does well for what he was given. It's great that McAvoy played this character methodically, actually stepping into the role, as compared to feeling like you're watching Mr. Tumnus in a suit.
Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr: The highlight of the cast. Fassbender portrayed the right amount of emotion, making you feel what Erik goes through, and why he eventually becomes Magneto. He made the role his own, without trying to mimic Ian McKellen, and that's important, since you don't want to copycat other actors. I saw him briefly in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and thought he was great, but here is where he really shines.
Kevin Bacon as Klaus Schmidt / Sebastian Shaw: More like... Kevin Bacon as Kevin Bacon. Bacon always tries to play the tough guy in so many movies I have seen him in. But it's a fake tough. Was this to add to the Six Degrees game? Who knows, but all around just the wrong guy for the role.
January Jones as Emma Frost / The White Queen: A model who can't act with a dumb hairdo. Her lines were stale and came off silly. Just like Kevin Bacon, she was the completely wrong casting choice for the character.
Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert: She did okay with what was written for her in the script, but as I stated above, the character was way off target. Rose plays the character with heart and soul, and gave her more than the actress on X3 did, so I applaud her for that. Her scenes with Xavier near the end are lighthearted and homage their comic counterparts. She was the heart of the film, showing Xavier that humans can accept mutantkind.
Nicholas Hoult as Dr. Henry "Hank" McCoy / Beast: Beast may be the only original X-Man tying this film to the "X-Men: First Class" comic book series, but regardless, I think they took more inspiration from "Astonishing" and a few others to adopt his catlike face, which some people may believe looks terrible when compared to Kelsey Grammar's version. Hoult played a young Hank well, and I give him credit for that, although the potential flirtatious love story with Mystique is made up to explain his blue skin, but the rest of his origin is pretty much canon. When it came to the latter part of the film and the ridiculous Beast costume, Hoult did okay, but he was better as Hank. You'll see what I mean when you watch the film.
Matthew Vaughn, with help from Lauren Shuler Donner and the return of Bryan Singer ("X-Men," "X2: X-Men United") to this franchise, directs this 'origin of the X-Men' film. I felt his shots could have been a little better, since there are so many awkward camera cuts, that you will begin to wonder what was cut out of this scene or that scene, but unless you're looking for it, it's not too noticeable. Vaughn could have done better directing. I actually wish that Bryan Singer had just taken the reigns back, but then again, why tarnish his name off this franchise if it didn't turn out well? I honestly don't think he's made a good film since X2, but that's just me.
Some of the CGI was cheesy, such as The White Queen's diamond skin, Erik's moving of all the metal at the beginning, or Hank back-flipping to hang upside-down, or even Beast whenever he's talking for that matter (watch his mouth), but for the most part it was bearable. The CGI isn't where the film was brought down in most cases, so I'm not going to be too harsh on the rating, but it definitely doesn't deserve a high rating.
There's obviously more than a few things I wanted to point out in this review. There's a scene where the kids are showing off their powers in a typical teenager high school way, with bad acting from first-time kid actors that made me think 'What the heck am I watching?' If those kids were the beef of this film, I think it might have flopped hard at the box office. The only saving grace happens to be McAvoy and Fassbender. If not for them, I'm not sure I would have seen this movie. The villains are not good, the kids are very annoying, and the plot is simply a tool to set up the trilogy. It has its' homages here and there (look for Stryker and Storm), and for the most part does a good job telling the origins of everything, but at its core and in all reality, this is a story about Xavier's and Erik's journeys. Fox may have instead been better off turning this script into "X-Men Origins: Magneto." At least we wouldn't have all the silliness wearing the film down.
"One day, the government is going to realize how lucky they were to have Professor X on their side."
"I suppose I am a real professor now, aren't I? Next thing you know, I'll be going bald. We're still on the government's side, Moira. We're still G-men, just without the 'G'."
"No. You're your own team now, it's better. You're... X-Men."