X-Men: First Class, the best of all the summer blockbusters (so far) and a prequel to the first X-Men film, opens in theaters everywhere this weekend. Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn won't need mind-control powers to make audiences devour this origin story that focuses on the relationship between Charles "Professor X" Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik "Magneto" Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) during the Cuban missile crisis in the early '60s. You'll get schooled on the formation of the X-Men and Brotherhood of Mutants and see the beginnings of Mystique and Beast as well as other mutants with marvelous abilities, like the diamond-skinned Emma Frost (January Jones).
Before you enjoy X-Men: First Class in theaters, study up on your favorite mutants by revisiting the X-Men Trilogy on either DVD or Blu-ray. Read on and take note of the mutant matters that matter in each installment and how they relate to the new prequel.
X-Men: If you have an extreme feeling of déjà vu when you see the beginning of X-Men: First Class that is because it is the same beginning shown in this 2000 movie directed by Bryan Singer. Both open with a scene at a concentration camp in 1944 Poland where a young Erik Lehnsherr is being separated from his mother by Nazi guards. Little Erik is so upset that he bends the metal gates separating them with his mind and, in X-Men: First Class, you'll see what happens to Erik and his mother immediately following this scene that both movies share.
X-Men also gives us our first look at Cerebro—the telepathic amplifier that enables Professor X to connect with all mutants on earth—and you'll see who designed old-school Cerebro version 1.0 in First Class.
X2: X-Men United: This 2003 sequel also directed by Singer is not only the rare sequel that is superior to the original, it remains one of the best superhero movies of all time. One of the characters introduced in this installment is Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming)—a teleporting mutant whom weather goddess Storm (Halle Berry) bonds with. Neither Nightcrawler nor Storm appear in X-Men: First Class, but look for another devil of a teleporting mutant, Azazel (who is actually Nightcrawler's father in the comics), and one who can whip up tornadoes at will in the new movie.
Also, Magneto (Ian McKellan) wears a silly looking helmet in X2 that protects him from telepaths like Charles Xavier. In X-Men: First Class, we learn that the helmet was first worn by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon)—a powerful mutant who absorbs kinetic energy and is hell-bent on world domination, but not if Magneto can avenge his mother's death and stop him.
X-Men: The Last Stand: This final standoff between Professor X's X-Men and Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutants benefits from having seen X-Men: First Class, which goes deep into the complicated history between the men. InThe Last Stand, directed by Brett Ratner, the X-Men and Brotherhood clash horns over a newly developed cure that makes mutants human again. This theme is hinted at again in X-Men: First Class when a young Dr. Henry "Hank" McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) tries to develop a cure for his mutant monkey feet.
The Last Stand also features Ben Foster as the feather-winged Angel, while First Class has Zoë Kravitz as Angel Salvadore, a young woman who busts out giant dragonfly wings when she's not busting out of her g-string as an exotic dancer. Also, if you always suspected that Magneto and Mystique might have been playing a little "hide the mutant" with each other, First Class sheds some light on their initial attraction.