The best superheroes wrestle with metaphorically thorny questions as well as sometimes literally thorny villains. X-Men: First Class adds another prestory to Marvel Comics' densely populated universe of X-Men heroes. The emerging super-powered characters must figure out right and wrong in a complicated and murky world. Add in some spectacular battle sequences and crisp characters, and it makes one of the best superhero movies in years.
In the early '60s, Charles (James McAvoy) studies human mutations. Erik (Michael Fassbender), a victim of the Holocaust, travels the world as a self-appointed Nazi hunter. They both have a secret: They are mutants who have evolved to have superhuman abilities. "Better men," as they say.
Meanwhile, Erik's former Nazi tormentor Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) has his own team of mutants and pulls the strings of history to make the Cold War serve his own ends.
Working with the CIA, Charles and Erik recruit a team of teen mutants to thwart Shaw. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) can take on different forms. Others fly or control sound waves. As "better men," will mutants choose to value human life or to strike preemptively in the human versus mutant war they foresee?
Rated PG-13, the film has a few mild instances of sexually suggestive situations, but it is not overtly sexual and is mostly obscenity-free. It is, however, an intense movie with serious themes, starting with a family separation in the horror of the Holocaust and leading to death scenes that are not intense in their visual graphics but are in their emotional resonance.
Blockbusters are all about the effects and this movie doesn't disappoint, whether it's cutting ships with their own anchor cables or tossing guided missiles around like darts.
Effects are fun, but gravitas makes a movie great. The choice between good and evil does not always seem clear-cut at the time. One man will become Dr. X and another his archrival Magneto. Who will be the better man morally as well as physically?