Leave it to the X-Men to put the fun back in summer blockbusters.
Hugh Jackman, in the role he was coiffed to play, and the rest of the crew from pretty much every film in this past, present and future franchise, deliver the action and the laughs in “Days of Future Past,” an all-star/all-X-Men outing designed to transition from the aging first generation cast into their younger selves. It’s too long and so cluttered with characters and exposition that if you aren’t a fan of the comics, you may feel you’re being punished. But it delivers the 3-D thrills and the Wolverine (and Quicksilver) giggles, and how.
In a “Terminator” future, the robotic Sentinels have all but wiped out humanity and the mutants who love them. But with the aid of time-bending Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), the X-Men may be able to stop the mad – or at least greedy and irritable – scientist (Peter Dinklage) who invented these machines back during the Nixon administration. Future mutants send the greying Wolverine (Jackman), or at least his consciousness, back to 1973.
And from the minute the guy wakes up in a world of lava lamps, Little Feat and Lectric Shave, things are popping. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his nemesis-turned-ally Magneto (Ian McKellen) need Wolverine to convince their feuding young selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) to prevent a vendetta by Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) that dooms the future. So Wolverine, Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and the two mutant leaders contend with the Vietnam War peace talks, Richard Nixon, as well as the young soldier (Josh Helman) who will age into the evil Stryker as they chase Mystique hither and yon.
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Because she’s seen the experiments this scientist has been doing on mutants. She’s been to Vietnam, where a selection of them were used in combat. And she’s got blood in her blue-green eyes.
History is twisted and sent up, from the Kennedy assassination to “Star Trek.” They need to bust into the Pentagon, so they track down a punk teen, the future Quicksilver (Evan Peters, who just kills in this part). That break-in scene, in 3-D slow motion “bullet time,” may be the coolest action beat ever filmed in 3-D and packs the biggest giggles in any X-Men film. Quicksilver hurtles through a sea of military police, misdirecting their guns, playing the “stop hitting yourself” game, giving wedgies.
Meanwhile, in the future, Bishop (Omar Sy), Storm (Halle Berry) and Blink (Bingbing Fan) try to hold off the Sentinels using some of the most spectacular effects (instant wormholes) you’ve ever seen in a fight scene.
Jackman has most of the one-liners. He drops in on the past version of Xavier’s school for gifted (mutant) kids, which has closed as the professor has lost his way and crawled into a bottle.
“Are you a parent?” Hank/Beast asks at the door.
“I sure as hell HOPE not!”
The acting is all you could hope for from this cast, with Page bringing the empathy and Jackman delivering the cool. Dinklage could have added a bit more villainous glee, but McAvoy re-interprets Xavier nicely and Lawrence doesn’t let down the side.
There’s no Stan Lee cameo, the onslaught of characters is a bit much and the third act drags and drags before delivering a heartfelt payoff. But “Days of Future Past” is most everything we’d hoped the summer’s earlier popcorn pictures would be – fun.