The endlessly mutable X-Men series has left plenty of room for sequels, spinoffs (the stand-alone Wolverine movies) and prequels. This one tells how telepath Charles Xavier became Professor X, founder of a school/refuge for super-powered mutant youngsters, and how his friend Erik Lensherr turned away from Xavier’s assimilationist path to become mutant separatist leader Magneto. (It also answers some side questions, like how Xavier lost the use of his legs.) As usual, mutation makes a potent metaphor for sociopolitical issues; while the modern-day X-films point up the parallels between society’s intolerance of mutants and other forms of bigotry (particularly homophobia), First Class goes back to 1962 for a Cold War parable, with mutation likened to nuclear power as a weapon that could be dangerous in the wrong hands.
The result sometimes plays more X-Files than X-Men (villain Sebastian Shaw, played by Kevin Bacon, seems to turn up at every critical juncture in Cold War history, just like Cigarette Smoking Man in X-Files), and its fresh-faced cast (including Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and James McAvoy) sometimes looks like X-Men: Muppet Babies. Still, this is an imaginative work of alternate history. True to the franchise, it still leaves some questions (like how Mystique will shift her allegiance from Xaiver to Magneto) for the inevitable future sequels.
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