It is the near future and the planet has been laid waste by the war against the Mutants, the beings who represent the next stage in human evolution and are treated with terror by the so-called "normal" people. To that end, an army of robots have been built which are so expert at detecting Mutants that they have just about wiped them out, yet in the process they also target humans whose DNA contains the potential for siring Mutants in the future, confusing the battle and leading to what amounts to an apocalypse. The chances for anyone surviving are now slim, but there is always hope: Professor X (Patrick Stewart), the most brilliant mind around, has marshalled his fellow Mutants - or X-Men - to generate one final push... from fifty years ago.
After what was widely regarded as a drop in quality for the X-Men movies The Last Stand and the first solo Wolverine entry, the appearance of X-Men: First Class, effectively a prequel, was seen as a welcome return to form, something for fans and newcomers alike to really indulge themselves with, as it was set around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and thus far back enough in yesteryear to apply to the nostalgia that might have been negated by a more modern day tale of warfare. Bringing original X-Men director Bryan Singer back to replace Matthew Vaughn, who opted to try and start his own, more British-flavoured franchise, they pretty much pulled the same trick: little mention of current turmoil, and more concentration on the past (and the future).
Professor X's solution is for his pupil Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to use her powers to send the mind of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to his largely unchanging body in 1973 when President Al from Happy Days is ending the Vietnam War where he can round up X's younger self (James McAvoy) and whoever else can help to stop the assassination of the scientist, Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), who designed the Sentinels thus sending the future into disarray. The assassin is Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and she has to be reasoned with since she sides with the Mutants against humanity under the tutelage of arch-villain Magneto (Michael Fassbender, though Ian McKellen was back too) who is incarcerated in a jail under the Pentagon, all concrete so he cannot use his abilities. Once nice thing about this instalment is that they are not shy of showing off the Mutant powers, recognising in a superhero flick you really want to see the superfolks strutting their stuff.
Another nice thing is the message of hope, and that it is ever-present as the Pandora's Box of modern global issues must have some kind of solution, though it does take the form of the patronising take that the future can only teach the past rather than the other way around. This is not too surprising if you read the franchise in the way Singer evidently did, as a metaphor for the struggles for acceptance for homosexuals by the mainstream: as time went on there was indeed progress in comparison to the dark days when gays were locked up or medically tampered with to "cure" them, and the X-Men movies noted how significant it was that such "alternative lifestyles" breed fear in the conservative mindset, not lost on the characters listening to Magneto's arrogant and threatening speechifying, but soothed by the Professor's humane "we can get along" insistences.
Yet for all the well-meaning, this was still a lesser film than the comparatively breezy previous one, mostly because it was at such a bombastic pitch that it started at maximum power and was left with nowhere to go. Placing the world at stake was a common plotline of science fiction, particularly the strain that mixed in action setpieces, but with every scene labouring the dire consequences of the past on the future, especially in such an overfamiliar state, what else was there to say? Unless you thought they actually were going to destroy everyone on Earth for an uncharacteristically bleak finale, then surprises were thin on the ground, which left a lower level enjoyment of watching an all-star cast going through their paces, itself reminiscent of a seventies blockbuster from around the point when studios were throwing money at their productions to make each bigger than the last, not a bad analogy to the path Marvel were taking with their properties. Entertaining in unabashed embracing of convoluted comic continuity, but deadeningly self-important by the end. Music by John Ottman.