The movie opens in a concentration camp. The boy who will one day become Magneto is separated from his parents by Nazis, which causes his mutant powers to unlock. Stricken with rage, he discovers he can bend metal gates with his mind. Cut to Professor X's childhood home, circa the same time. Young Charles Xavier can read and interact with minds. He demonstrates this ability when he discovers a young Mystique in his kitchen—yes, she's the blue chick from the other films in case you forgot.
Fast forward a few years later and an adult Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is searching for the evil Dr. Schmidt (Kevin Bacon) who studied the mutant boy's powers of magnetism, not to mention murdered his mother. We learn that Charles (James McAvoy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) have been mutants-in-hiding ever since they met. Mystique (she's a shape-shifter, remember?) is forced to appear in her human form whenever they're in public. This irritates her because she thinks men are unlikely to find her attractive in her true form (um yeah, right).
To make a long story short, Schmidt has escaped to America where he masquerades as a regular joe known as Sebastian Shaw. There's a scene where a female CIA agent (Rose Byrne's Moira MacTaggert) notices a group of strippers walking into the Las Vegas club where Shaw is staying. How does the beautiful agent sneak into the club? Why, she merely strips her clothes off in the middle of the street and walks right in. I really hate scenes like this and no, it's not because of the gratuitous near-nudity—that's actually the only thing going for it, really. Screenwriters have been coming up with stupid security workarounds for decades now. According to them, you could sneak into The Pentagon with nothing more than a silly accent and a threat to call someone's superiors.
It's quickly revealed that Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw is a mutant, too, and he wants to incite nuclear war. See, mutants were born of radiation so they will survive the nuclear apocalypse. Normal humans, however, will not. And when you've got mutants as dangerous as Shaw, it kind of lends credence to the government's desire to catalog and track them.
To make a long story short, Charles Xavier is recruited by the government to go after Shaw. He convinces Magneto to join him. They're going to need a team, of course, and for the first X-Men roster they scrape the absolute bottom of the barrel. See, the first ninety-three issues of Uncanny X-Men (#67—93 were actually reprints as Marvel had kind of given up on the franchise) there was a problem: it was kind of a mediocre comic. It wasn't until Giant-Size X-Men when the team got interesting. Which begs the question: Why bother making a film about the X-Men team no one gives a shit about?
So it's time for a disclaimer: I love Uncanny X-Men and own over a hundred issues from the Chris Claremont era. I typically like (not love) X-Men movies, too. I'm even a fan of this film's director, who made wonderful movies like Layer Cake, Stardust, and Kick-Ass. But try as I might, I could not get into First Class. I wouldn't say it's a terrible movie, but it's a huge disappointment for me personally.
Magneto is a character who intrigues me more than almost any other comic book character in existence. Sure, most superhero powers would be a lot more useful than his, but there's something admirable about everything Magneto accomplishes despite his relatively weak power. His greatest power might be his resolve. There's something endearing in that.
I'm not saying they screwed Magneto up, but there's a bit of the Hannibal effect going on: when you have a character as legendary as he is it kind of takes the fun out of it when his life history is detailed so thoroughly. It's to be expected in a comic book that drags on for hundreds of issues—how else would they pad the story out?—but it seems like you're wasting valuable time when the series is due for a reboot any year now. I just think it's more interesting when we sympathize with Magneto when we don't know why. Why justify his actions? We were all on board, anyway. No need to run it into the ground.
My other gripe pertains to prequels in general. I don't give a shit how a character's most mundane details came about. Doesn't matter, they're going to show us anyway.
I hope to watch this again in a few years and discover I was wrong, but I don't think so. It just didn't work for me.