Almost 50 years ago, Marvel Comics introduced a team of men and women with genetic mutations that gave them extraordinary powers from mental telepathy to manipulating the weather. In 2000, the X-Men became movie characters whose stories continued in three sequels. But now a new film goes back to the beginning to show how their alliances and rivalries began. Here's a look at X-Men: First Class.
XAVIER: "A new species is being born. Help me guide it, shape it, lead it."
Charles Xavier grew up in the 1960's knowing he was different from his schoolmates. At university, he studied genetics in a quest to understand how a mutation gave him amazing mental abilities.
XAVIER: "One of the many spectacular things my mutation allows me to do is I can read your mind."
Xavier is not alone. He soon learns there are other mutants who, like him, have remarkable abilities, like blue-skinned Raven who can shift into a totally different appearance in a moment; and Holocaust survivor Erik, who can control metals and bend them to his will.
Michael Fassbender portrays Erik Lehnsherr, who has the power to control magnetism. Lehnsherr is determined to exact revenge on the monstrous evil who "created" him.
Michael Fassbender plays young Erik, who will grow up to become Magneto. James McAvoy is Xavier as a young man - the character who will become Professor X, played in the X-Men films by Patrick Stewart.
"I looked really closely at Sir Patrick's performance, which I really enjoyed, but I felt just to validate making these movies you have to make the characters different, otherwise they are just the same performances with a sexy suit," explains McAvoy. "So I tried to take the key points of his character and just flip them. Not extremely so: he's a good guy. I couldn't make him a bad guy, but where he is sort of wise, I was unwise and where he is chaste, I was randy …and vice versa."
Dr. Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) demonstrates his mutant powers to an appreciative Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Charles (James McAvoy) and Erik (Michael Fassbender)
Fassbender found the best source for background on the characters was not the previous films, but the original X-Men comics.
"I just really delved into the comic books. There was so much material there that I was spoiled in terms of biography and putting together a complicated, well-rounded character," says Fassbender.
In this prequel, Xavier and Magneto start out as close friends fighting on the same side, but they become bitter rivals over how - and whether - mutants can fit into human society. Fassbender says those themes make it stand out from typical action movie fare.
"The whole concept of X-Men is a very mature idea.... I think that idea of alienation is a universal thing, whether it be for religious beliefs, ethnicity or sexual orientation. I think everybody experiences it, so I think it touches on a nerve that people can relate to," Fassbender says.
Emma Frost (January Jones) and Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) are powerful mutants scheming to trigger a nuclear war that will result in the demise of humanity - and the ascension of mutants.
Of course, it's a comic book-based action film, so there has to be a flamboyant villain. That would be Shaw, played with relish by Kevin Bacon.
SHAW: "Each of us will face a choice: be enslaved or rise up to rule. Choose freely, but know that if you are not with us then, by definition, you are against us."
"A lot people say to me 'what's it like playing the villain, the evil guy, the bad guy?' I don't think that what I'm doing is bad," notes Bacon. "So if I'm really in the skin of this person, I don't think of myself as a bad guy. I think of myself as a good guy. Obviously, my perception of the world is one where the humans are a threat to our survival. The ways he goes about it and the misguided nature of it and the power-hungry, megalomaniacal aspect of him is there, but he is not thinking 'I'm going to do something evil now.'"
A great villain needs henchmen and Bacon's Shaw has a beautiful and deadly one in Emma Frost, played by January Jones.
"I was a bit nervous, to be honest," admits Jones. "There is a big responsibility in taking on a character so beloved by the fans."
And the film is peppered with cameos by other characters that diehard fans of the comic books and the previous films will recognize and appreciate - a sign, perhaps, that there are more films to come with the younger X-Men: First Class.