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IMAGE: X-Men
Murray Close  /  AP
Kevin Bacon and January Jones star in "X-Men: First Class." Time moves differently in the "X-Men" universe -- Jones' character was just a teen in another movie, set in a later year than this one.
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updated 6/3/2011 12:50:15 PM ET 2011-06-03T16:50:15

When Stan Lee originally came up with the X-men, he made them mutants specifically so he wouldn't have to come up with individual origin stories beyond "They were born that way." Hollywood, which never takes for granted that audiences will just accept such things, has given us a prequel anyway, set during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is all despite Bryan Singer's first "X-Men" feature being pretty clear on most of the basics.

Story: 'X-Men' prequel is first-class affair

And like so many superhero movies these days, it's loaded with enough characters, backstory and plot that you may need some notes at first. So here are a couple of pointers before you head into theaters this weekend to see the biggest mutant-starring movie of the summer:

MORE: Get all you X-Men news right here!

1. Charles Xavier Really Is the Absent-Minded Professor: In the first "X-Men" movie, Professor X, then played by Patrick Stewart, claimed to have met arch-nemesis Magneto at age 17 and built the mutant-seeking device Cerebro with him. He also expresses surprise that his friend-turned-foe is in possession of a helmet that can block psychic attacks. Since "X-Men: First Class" features several shout-outs to the comic's continuity while simultaneously contradicting these events, we must assume that the mutants' bald benefactor (James McAvoy in the new one) either has a terrible memory, is a huge liar or exists in an alternate reality.

Video: ‘First Class’ stars fly high, thanks to mutant powers (on this page)

2. Inconsistency Runs Rampant: We know some mutants, like Wolverine, just don't age. But it would appear some humans don't either, while mutants can age backward. Diamond-skinned Emma Frost--here a sexy femme fatale played by January Jones--appeared as a teenager in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," while Xavier's human liaison/love interest Moira, played by Rose Byrne in this '60s setting, will apparently look like Olivia Williams some 40 years later in "X-Men: the Last Stand." Let's not even start with the cameo by human Hank McCoy in X2, who became a blue-haired Beast in the subsequent movie with no explanation. Now we learn he actually changed decades ago. George Lucas doesn't look so wildly inconsistent now, huh? Best to think of this as a "Star Trek"-style reboot, where what we've seen so far is only one possible future. After all, the World Trade Center was part of future New York in the first film. And Halle Berry's Storm lost her "African" accent damn quick.

Video: 'X' marks the spot for James McAvoy (on this page)

3. Angels Have No Gender: To the casual viewer, it may seem confusing that Ben Foster played a winged mutant named Angel in "The Last Stand," and Lenny Kravitz's daughter Zoe plays a winged mutant also called Angel in "First Class". Here's the distinction: Foster's character was actually named Warren Worthington and got the nickname due to having feathered wings. The new Angel is actually named Angel Salvadore, has insect wings and goes by the nom de hero Tempest in the comics. Also, if you're curious why new character Azazel (Jason Flemyng) seems so similar to Nightcrawler, it's because they're father and son...If the inevitable sequels hold to comics continuity, Mystique's the mom.

Video: Zoe Kravitz flies high in 'X-Men' (on this page)

4. Stan Lee Is Nowhere to Be Found: Unlike in many Marvel Comics adaptations, Stan Lee does not have a cameo. Nor is there anything after the end credits. Just thought we'd save you some time there.

5. The Director Knows His Action: Matthew Vaughn originally dropped out of helming "The Last Stand," but then proved he could direct kickass heroics by making, well, "Kick-Ass". Fans hated "The Last Stand" anyway, so he dodged that adamantium bullet. Now he's back with a story cowritten by original X-guy Bryan Singer, who was busy with "Superman Returns" back then. Vaughn sure knows how to pick his spots; he also made a pre-Bond Daniel Craig believable as a tough guy in "Layer Cake."

PHOTOS: Get all the mutant pics in our X-Men: First Class gallery!

© 2012 E! Entertainment Television, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Video: Watch the trailer for 'X-Men: First Class'

Photos: Summer's upcoming blockbusters

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  1. Summer movie season

    Summer's here, and the time is right for hiding in dark, air-conditioned theaters, watching some sequels that are already sequels to sequels. And perhaps a good original movie or two. Strap yourself in for the blockbusters to come -- "Bridesmaids," seen here, is already marching down the theater aisle. --Dave White (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' (May 20)

    Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush

    What it is: "Pirates 4" focuses on something about mermaids and Blackbeard and zombies and the Fountain of Youth. Look, are you going to see this for the plot or because you want to watch Johnny Depp and Keith Richards out-stagger each other? Don’t lie to yourself.

    Biggest fear going in: That the filmmakers will muddy the water with foolish ideas about having something to say instead of allowing Depp’s antics and the special effects to rule the moment. (Peter Mountain / Disney Enterprises) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 'Kung Fu Panda 2' (May 27)

    Starring: Voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman

    What it is: Having established his awesomeness as the awesomest fighting panda in the awesome original, Po (voiced by Black) returns in "Kung Fu Panda 2" to awesomely battle a very mean peacock.

    Potential to be awesome: Show of hands, who didn’t like the first film? If the filmmakers don’t mess with that installment’s formula of great animation plus charm plus wit, all will be well and children’s karate classes will reap the benefits. (DreamWorks) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 'The Hangover Part II' (May 27)

    Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms

    What it is: "The Hangover Part 2" is, a) The same movie as before but in a new city and b) a kind of shameless cash-in and c) Zach Galifianakis’ ticket to never having to work again if he doesn’t feel like it (except he feels like it a lot and is currently tied with Natalie Portman in what feels like a bizarre ubiquity contest).

    How funny it will be: Pointlessness be darned, you can count on Galifianakis. He owned the original and will probably do it again. (Warner Bros) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. 'X-Men: First Class' (June 3)

    Starring: Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, January Jones

    What it is: "X-Men: First Class" is set in the early 1960s, showing how the X-Teens at Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters became the X-Adults. That means the cast is newer and younger and dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis. You probably never knew that mutant superheroes were part of that thing. That’s what you get for sleeping through history class.

    A lesson in jump-starting a stalled franchise: After “X-Men: The Last Stand” annoyed its core audience, a tune-up was needed. What better way to accomplish that goal than to time-travel back to an origin story with a hip young cast? And it makes much more sense than simply saying, “OK, we’re going to make another first chapter film about 'The Incredible Hulk'” or “Hey, remember those old 'Spider-Man' movies from five minutes ago? They don’t count anymore.” (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 'Super 8' (June 10)

    Starring: Riley Griffiths, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning

    What it is : It’s 1979 and some geeky, filmmaking kids find an alien. Not a cute one. You can call "Super 8" “Lost” co-creator J.J. Abrams’ more menacing “E.T.” if you want but what you can’t call it is a sequel or remake or reboot. And for a big movie landing smack-dab in the middle of the summer movie season, that feels like some kind of miracle.

    Most excellent stamp of approval: Producer Steven Spielberg’s, of course. Advance word is that Abrams has made an exciting valentine to that director’s heyday. Now here’s hoping it lives up to those expectations and avoids falling into the cracks caused by an X-Men/Green Lantern earthquake. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 'Green Lantern' (June 17)

    Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard

    What it is: Reynolds is The "Green Lantern." He wears a green suit, fights bad guys and works with an interplanetary corps of power-ring-wearing space cops to maintain order in the universe. Blake Lively plays someone who wears really fashionable clothes, no doubt. OK, lie, she plays an aerospace executive.

    Extreme nerd alert: More than “Thor,” more than “Captain America,” this is the Comic-Con date movie of the summer. It comes with the most fan yearning attached and, therefore, the most to lose. If you aren’t on a date with a nerd when you see this, at least you’ll finally get what that circle-in-between-two-lines T-shirt means. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 'Mr. Popper’s Penguins' (June 17)

    Starring: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury

    What it is: In "Mr. Popper's Penguins," a heartless corporate type (Carrey) learns to be nice when a brood of penguins show up at his doorstep (no word on whether or not he also learns to do that marching thing they’re so famous for). Based on the beloved classic children’s book, it could go a long way toward erasing the memory of Carrey's creepy animated “A Christmas Carol.”

    Tailor-made for: Everyone.The book was published in 1938. That means it was also your grandmother’s childhood favorite. And who doesn’t love penguins? (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 'Bad Teacher' (June 24)

    Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel

    What it is: In "Bad Teacher," Cameron Diaz drinks and smokes weed. In the classroom. She hates the kids. She doesn’t care if they learn. Think an easier-on-the-eyes Billy Bob Thornton minus the Santa suit and you have every teacher union’s worst public relations nightmare.

    What Diaz keeps proving: The pretty woman can also be the funny woman. And if this one and “Bridesmaids” hit audiences in the right spot, that whole grown-up female comedy snowball will just get bigger, badder and more impossible for Hollywood to ignore. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 'Cars 2' (June 24)

    Starring: Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, Michael Caine

    What it is: Um… OK, so… now the cars are… spies? Whatever, "Cars 2" is about these talking cartoon automobiles, see, and you have to take your children to it. No exceptions. It’s the Pixar joint that’s least loved by adults and most loved by the under-10s, but you have to concede that even when this studio is only batting .500, that’s a way better average than just about everybody else.

    Coolest marketing move they could make: Give away tickets. That’s right, let everyone in for free. Pixar already makes about a billion dollars a year on toys and talking Larry The Cable Guy toothbrushes — no joke, they do — so why not just consider the movie itself a loss leader? (Ho / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' (July 1)

    Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

    What it is: In "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," the cars-that-turn-into-robots continue their never-ending quest to fight and fight and fight and fight. And this time they do all that on the moon and in 3-D. Haters are invited to go see “The Help” or that new Woody Allen movie, whatever it’s called.

    Funny joke Michael Bay has already made publicly: He claims that because this one is in 3-D, he held the camera still for more than half a second at a time. What’s he trying to do, make an art film or something? Brace yourself for coherent visuals. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. 'Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows -- Part Two' (July 15)

    Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

    What it is: 'Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows -- Part Two' is THE movie of the summer, 10 years in the making. When other sequels tell you they’re the last in the series, they’re always lying to you. This one isn’t. So long, Harry.

    Chance it will live up to its own hype: Have you seen that trailer? Or, for that matter, have you seen the most recent bigger, better, darker Potter films? The “Boy Who Lived” is going out with a big bang. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. 'Winnie The Pooh' (July 15)

    Starring: Voices of Jim Cummings, John Cleese, Craig Ferguson

    What it is: In "Winnie the Pooh," Eeyore the donkey needs a new tail so Pooh and his pals in the Hundred Acre Wood help him find one. Honey is also consumed. And then Piglet and Tigger turn into giant metallic fighting robots and make fart jokes. Guess which one of those plot points is fake.

    What’s the appeal?: They are not digital animals interacting with a live-action Christopher Robin. They are not in 3-D. They are rated “G.” They do not conduct a dance-off to “Baby Got Back.” They are as old-fashioned and sweet as you remember them. Need any more reasons? (Disney Enterprises) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. 'Captain America: The First Avenger' (July 22)

    Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones

    What it is: The theme song to the crudely animated Saturday morning cartoon of the 1960s really says it all about "Captain America: The First Avenger": “When Captain America throws his mighty shield, all those who chose to oppose his shield must yield. If he’s led to a fight and a duel is due, then the red and the white and the blue’ll come through.” And in this introductory course in all things Captain, he throws his shield at Nazis during World War II. Klang!

    Where all this is leading: Marvel is building a kingdom at the movies. It started with “Iron Man” and continues with “Thor” and will soon encompass this and other superhero characters that will team up and form The Avengers. If you’re one of those people who wish all this stuff would just go away, sorry but you’re out of luck. It’s just gearing up. For the rest of you: WHOOO-HOOOO! (Marvel Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. 'Cowboys & Aliens' (July 29)

    Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde

    What it is: "Cowboys and Aliens" is exactly what it says it is — cowboys in the Old West find themselves battling aliens, only without the benefit of a history of science-fiction movies and TV shows informing their sensibility. In other words, no “Star Wars” points of reference to hang their strategy on. Sorry, Han Solo.

    What’s at stake, box-office-wise: The production schedules of other genre mash-up style projects like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 'The Smurfs' (July 29)

    Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Hank Azaria

    What it is: It's "The Smurfs," an adventure revolving around characters who haven’t been seen on Saturday-morning TV for decades — not that selling nostalgia to parents and cute CG creatures to kids wasn’t a winning formula for the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" franchise. The tiny blue dudes (and one tiny Smurfette) cross over from their magical land to New York City where, presumably, Harris can at least help them pick up hard-to-get tickets for Broadway shows.

    Parental advisory: It’s quite likely your children will leave the theater wanting to buy little blue dolls and/or using various forms of “Smurf” to substitute for any and all other words. But there are worse things than that. (Sony Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' (Aug. 5)

    Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis

    What it is: The prequel "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is actually sort of a remake of 1972’s “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” which was one of the sequels to the original “Planet of the Apes,” which was itself weirdly remade by Tim Burton a few years back. Confused yet? Have a banana and calm down.

    Lingering question: Did Franco take this gig because it’s part of his ongoing life-as-art project, which includes a stint on “General Hospital,” gallery exhibitions of his own weird video work revolving around cultural offerings like “My Own Private Idaho” and “Three’s Company,” hosting the Oscars and strenuously colleging his way to half a dozen graduate degrees? Or does he just really like jobs? (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. 'The Help' (Aug. 12)

    Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Sissy Spacek

    What it is: "The Help" is that book everybody's book club loved so much. White Southern belles and their African-American maids negotiate the upheaval surrounding the civil-rights movement of the 1960s.

    Built in counter-programming appeal: No robots, but lots of hats, gloves, shoes and social justice. (DreamWorks Studios) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. 'Fright Night' (Aug. 19)

    Starring: Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, Toni Collette

    What it is : "Fright Night" is a remake of the schlocky 1985 horror movie that no one was demanding be remade.

    What’s already very, very strange about it: The project stars Toni Collette and Colin Farrell, two respected actors whose careers tend to point more in the direction of leading roles in higher-profile indie films. And its director is Craig Gillespie, who made the Oscar-nominated/Sundance Film Festival hit “Lars and The Real Girl.” So it’s the arthouse “Fright Night” now? (DreamWorks II) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. 'Spy Kids 4: All The Time in The World' (Aug. 19)

    Starring: Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven, Joel McHale

    What it is: In "Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World," the spy kids grew up and, presumably, went off to spy university or something, but they do appear — in what capacity is uncertain — in this movie that’s all about Jessica Alba as a spy mom . Look, whatever it takes.

    Secret appeal to fans of “Grindhouse”: Danny Trejo shows up as Machete! (The Weinstein Company) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. 'Conan the Barbarian' (Aug. 19)

    Starring: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan

    What it is: "Conan the Barbarian" gets the reboot treatment with newcomer Momoa (“Stargate Atlantis,” "Game of Thrones") as the man who devotes equal time to sword-swinging, death-avenging and pectoral-oiling. There was much more opportunity to fully commit oneself to each pursuit in fantasy olden times of yore.

    Beware the ides of, well, August: This very late summer release might not be the best news for fans of this title. It’s from the man whose last films were the reboots of “Friday the 13th” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and has, sadly, a distinctly minor-league vibe going on already. Also, the closer a film’s release is to Labor Day, the more it all starts to smell like “clearance sale.” Forewarned is forearmed. (Simon Varsano / Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. 'Final Destination 5' (Aug. 26)

    Starring: Nicholas D’Agosto, Emma Bell, David Koechner

    What it is: With "Final Destination 5," Death is not a guy you can trust to just go away, even after he promises everything’s cool. He’s got more teens to kill in convoluted ways, this time starting with a suspension bridge collapse and, who knows, maybe winding up at a miniature golf course. All bets are off.

    Lies piled up on top of lies: The previous installment was titled “THE Final Destination” and we all believed you. Clearly, “final” means something else in your dictionary, movie. (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
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