X-Men First Class is the prequel to the hugely popular X-Men series. The new film delves into the complex history of Professor X and Magneto – leaders of the mutants.
Against the backdrop of the cold war, the mutants first start to notice their powers. A charismatic and privileged young Charles Xavier meets the driven and battle-hardened Erik Lehnsherr. At first the young men enjoy the novelty of their powers in the grounds of Xavier’s extensive family estate. However, their extraordinary abilities soon bring them both face to face with the greatest threat humanity has ever known – the Cuban missile crisis.
Playing, Sebastian Shaw, the sociopathic force behind the nuclear stand-off is Kevin Bacon. He calls the setting a “cool way” to set up the X-Men history:
“Shaw’s plan is to escalate the Cuban missile crisis, to get Russian ships and submarines into the Bay of Pigs, and have the Americans and Russians fire at each other – triggering a nuclear war that will eradicate humanity and allow mutants to take over the world. It’s a fantastic plot device. It was an incredibly tense moment in world history.”
The story behind Magneto’s rage also becomes apparent as the movie explores the young Lehnsherr’s experiences at Auschwitz and his quest to hunt down the Nazi scientist who experimented on him. His fond friendship with Charles is overshadowed by his bloodthirst. The need to bring Dr Schmidt to justice soon weighs on the amicable pair.
Michael Fassbender, who played the young Lehnsherr, explains:
“There is a very strong bond between Charles and Erik, and a deep respect. But from the beginning, their ideologies are at odds. Erik is very wary of new elements in his life and of getting close to someone again. He does so with Charles as much as he can with anyone. We wanted to have a believable journey to the point where their devastating rift begins. When Erik and Charles have their parting of the ways, audiences will realize that great things could have happened if they had joined forces forever.
“Erik is quite Machiavellian; he believes the end justifies the means. He has no regard for humans, and feels they’re inferior. He is totally driven; if Charles or anyone gets in his way, he’s going to put them down.”
The film provides an introduction to many of the best known mutants. Charles meets a blue-skinned mutant named Raven, who has superhuman agility. In later films she becomes Mystique and joins forces with Magneto in the battle for mutant survival. The Banshee also finds his voice in the film – especially useful in the acoustic battle against submarines off the coast of Cuba.
Fans also get to meet the first version of the Cerebro – which was ingeniously reverse-engineered by production designer Chris Seagers to look like a prototype of the device seen in later films. The shape was also inspired by the observatory domes that can be seen on the estates of some stately homes in England. He also designed more than 80 sets at Pinewood Studios to give the film its sixties backdrop:
“That era was groundbreaking in terms of design. Everything was new. Color, shape, and modern lightweight materials like plastic burst onto the scene. We were starting to see these new materials in the architecture. Matthew Vaughn was also very keen to inject some of that James Bond-ian style into the look of the film, while preserving the somewhat darker landscape of the X-Men world.”
The X-Jet model was based on the XB-70, a prototype long-range, supersonic bomber developed in the U.S. in the late 1950s. Englefield House, a Tudor mansion in Berkshire, England, was chosen as the site for Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
X-Men First Class is released in cinemas in the US on 3rd June 2011 and throughout June in other territories.
Charles Xavier played by James McAvoy (Atonement, The Last King of Scotland,The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Wanted)
Erik Lehnsherr played by Michael Fassbender (300, Hunger, Inglourious Basterds)
Secretary of State of the United States played by Ray Wise
Young Erik Lehnsherr played by Bill Milner
Director: Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick Ass)
Producers: Lauren Shuler Donner (X2: X-Men United), Bryan Singer (X-Men and X2: X-Men United), Simon Kinberg (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, This Means War), Gregory Goodman
Executive producers: Stan Lee, Josh McLaglenn, Tarquin Pack
Story by Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air), Bryan Singer (X-Men and X2: X-Men United)
Written by: Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick Ass), Jane Goldman, Ashley Edward Miller (Thor), Zack Stentz (Thor)
Original creators: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby.
Visual effects: John Dykstra (Star Wars Episode IV- A New Hope, Spider-Man), Chris Corbould (The Dark Knight, Inception, Casino Royale)
Costume design: Sammy Sheldon
Music score: Henry Jackman