After I wrote this, I realized that, technically, there are some vague spoilers throughout. That’s because X-Men: First Class tells an origin story, rebooting a very successful franchise, so I went in knowing more or less how it was going to end, and I wrote this post in the expectation that other people would as well. I still think that’s a fair assumption, but the Rules of the Internet have been drilled into my head to the extent that I still feel the need to issue a spoiler warning: Herein I allude to how the alliances among the characters will shift over the course of the film, but if you’ve ever seen a movie or read a comic in the series, there’s absolutely nothing here you don’t already know.
The best thing about the first two X-Men movies (X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine are not worth consideration) is how complicated the conflicts are. Unlike most summer flicks, which have only a “good” side and a “bad” side, X-Men and X2 both feature at least three different factions and shifting alliances within and among them. Sure, there are still good guys and bad guys, at least relatively speaking, but they sometimes find themselves on the same side, and the bad guys tend to make good arguments and have sympathetic motivations, and that makes the movies interesting.
X-Men: First Class represents a return to form on that front. The movie has its problems, but the central relationship between antagonists-to-be is so evocatively rendered that it elevates the entire production. Throw in the playful flair of the 1960s setting, the dynamic pacing, the unexpectedly affecting climax, and—especially—the terrific lead performances, and First Class becomes the best sort of summer movie: hugely entertaining in the moment and worth talking about on the way home.