Time travel, Peter Dinklage and 1970s kitsch top a very long list of what makes "X-Men: Days of Future Past" such a blast.
Allowing one of the mutant corps to travel back to save a perilous present paves the way for all of the X-Men to find their better selves. And who wouldn't want a chance to do that?
The massive top-drawer cast — basically anyone who's ever had a walk-on in an X-Men movie shows up — has never been better employed either. It is amusing and at times moving to see the older and younger versions of key characters as they rewrite a bit of X-Men history. And when they talk to themselves, well, it makes for some special meta moments.
Directed by Bryan Singer, the adventure is led, as it should be, by Charles Xavier, a.k.a. Professor X, with James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart portraying his past and present selves. There is action galore, but "Future Past" is a deeper, richer, more thoughtful film, more existential in its contemplations than earlier "Xs," all rather nicely embedded in the mayhem churned up by the mutants' altered states.
"Days of Future Past" is Singer's first time back in the "X-Men" director's chair since 2003's "X-Men 2." Though he's slated to handle 2016's "X-Men: Apocalypse," the sexual abuse lawsuit that surfaced this spring make that less certain. If this should be the director's last "X-Men," it will stand as his best.
Meanwhile, screenwriter Simon Kinberg was clearly just getting warmed up with 2011's "X-Men: First Class," which expanded the mutant gene pool and polished up plotting, which had gotten tedious in the 11 years since 2000's "X-Men" hit the big screen in a big way.
Kinberg not only reenergizes the X-idea in the new film, he erases most of the damage done by the disappointment of 2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," giving Hugh Jackman a real chance to make Logan/Wolverine more than good hair and slinging blades. Jackman steps up.
As the one chosen to make the journey back in time, Logan is also the one charged with persuading Professor X and Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender the younger, Ian McKellen the elder) to consider a little course correcting. A tall order since neither is inclined to follow orders. Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) uses her powers to handle the transporting — only the consciousness need make the trip.
Logan's job is to stop a single event that involves Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), revenge, a gun and the assassination of a scientist. This allows us to watch Lawrence work wonders as her character morphs through the best and worst looks of the '70s, in clothes and politicians. The music from the era chimes in too, making otherwise everyday moments into ironic observations.
As the film opens, the mutants are under siege. The 18-foot-tall Sentinels, a robotic fighting force, is aiming to wipe them out. The scientist who designed the Sentinels is long dead, and therein lies the rub. Wolverine's conversations with the younger Xs need to ensure that Dr. Bolivar Trask (Dinklage) will survive. It is a good thing to hope for, if for no other reason than to possibly see the actor do even more with this complicated villain in the coming "Apocalypse."
Though the mutants have always had a range of issues that accompany their particular gifts — Nicholas Hoult's bookish Hank also a blue Beast, the storms that Storm (Halle Berry) conjures — X-Men villains, at least on screen, are rarely interesting. Perhaps it is the motivation that makes the man in this case. Rather than world domination or money, it's the mutant gene that piques Trask's scientific curiosity. He's eager to get his hands on some DNA, believing it would better equip the Sentinels to save the human race.
The idea of intolerance and discriminating against differences has always been a central theme. Yet "Future Past" lets the discussion and debate about the mutants' status play out across time in fresh ways. Creating two eras essentially requires creating two movie sets. Production and costume design make the most of the details, the exceptional special effects have a grand time taking Washington down, while the sound — from score to effects — is spot-on.
There are too many tricks up "X-Men's" sleeve to begin to mention, but do watch for Quicksilver/Peter (Evan Peters). It's a toss-up whether it is more fun to not see him zip from here to there, or when the filmmakers slow the action down long enough to let us see what a card Quicksilver is.
It must be said that the director melds the past and the future together, mixing eras and metaphors in ways both hard-core fans and the completely uninitiated can enjoy and understand. More significant — the film's emotions are as transformative as the mutants.
The actors have a field day unleashing all of those pent-up feelings. McAvoy and Fassbender in particular are electric fighting and joining forces and then fighting again. As it always has been, the fate of the X-Men ultimately lies in the health of their relationship. I think the future is safe.
'X-Men: Days of Future Past'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language
Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes