If you ask comic readers who the X-Men's greatest villain is, chances are they'll say Magneto. The same would be said for those that have only seen the previous movies or animated series. While currently a part of the X-Men in the comics, he still retains that shadow hanging over him leaving readers wondering when he'll turn against the X-Men once again.
With the release of X-Men: First Class, we got to see a little more of who Erik Lehnsherr was before he became the man known as Magneto. Despite the title of the film, the movie was Magneto's story along with his relationship with Charles Xavier. Yes there were mutants involved and the formation of the X-Men, but they were secondary characters. Magneto was a victim throughout and was on a quest to achieve some sort of peace within himself.
Just as in the comics, Magneto did some things that would be construed as an act of evil. With this portrayal, should Magneto still be seen as a villain?== TEASER ==
When one suffers a horrific experience, where should the line be drawn in righting any wrongs? How far should one go in order to achieve justice? As in the comics, Erik was born to a Jewish family in the late 1920s and taken to a camp in 1939. What he had to experience is enough to permanently scar any person. Rather than succumb to the cruel fates, Erik managed to survive this ordeal. With a thirst for revenge, he had one goal in mind.
X-Men: First Class continued to show that Erik wasn't a man determined to rule of homo sapiens. He wasn't even aware there were other mutants in existence. He just needed to get closure on what he suffered through as a child. Meeting Charles Xavier showed him there were others like him, with special abilities. Charles helped him cope with the pain he kept bottled up inside and Erik was becoming a better person.
Unfortunately it is part of human nature to fear that which is unknown. If you've seen the movie or the trailers, you know that Erik, Charles and the newly formed X-Men are trying to deal with the missile crisis and the potential outbreak of a nuclear war. Working with CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert, the X-Men even had approval by the U.S. Government. Yet, it's clear, even in the trailers, that they will be betrayed. A swarm of missiles is headed their way, regardless of any effort the X-Men made in saving the day.
This is where we see the difference in Charles and Erik's ideals. Charles believes that mankind and mutants can co-exist. He believes they should save even those that fear them. Magneto is not willing to take the same route. People consider Magneto an enemy but wasn't it more a matter of when push comes to shove? Magneto wanted to do the right thing. He may have had a personal agenda but he was willing to put his life on the line to save the United States and even the world. The extreme lack of gratitude showed this was a mistake.
He lived his life not being able to trust anyone. Meeting Charles allowed him to open himself up. But shortly after that, he was betrayed. He needs to ensure the survival of himself and mutantkind, which is a target for the government. Nothing can stop him and he won't even allow a friendship to get in the way.
So who is the true villain here? It's not Magneto. The government may think they are protecting the innocent but that can't be the case when they make up their own definition of who is and is not considered innocent. Magneto grew up being a victim. Once he was on his way to achieving closure and had a place next to Xavier, the government and society showed him where he stood among them. Standing up for himself and what he believes in doesn't make him a villain. When push comes to shove, Magneto will shove back.