There are many superhuman feats on display in the latest installment in the "X-Men" saga, "Days of Future Past."
Time travel. Saving the world from big, angry robots. A beautifully restored 1973 Buick Riviera.
But the nod for the most stunning accomplishment goes to director Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg for taking what could have been a formulaic superhero sequel and giving it humor and life — while remaining true to the original "X-Men" message of the outcasts finding strength in their differences.
The plot mechanics grow increasingly creaky in the latter half, as the special effects grow bigger, but there’s still enough residual energy to keep it from lapsing into being, say, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," perhaps the most reviled of all the recent Marvel Comics related films.
This "X-Men" installment begins in an alternative near-future where humanity — mutants and regular Joes alike — has been pushed to extinction by the rise of superbots originally designed by mad scientist Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage) to wipe out the mutants.
But Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) have a plan.
Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) is a mutant whose special power is the ability to send people back in time. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is selected to travel to the early ’70s, when Dr. Trask was first peddling his ideas before a skeptical Congress and the mutants were unknown to the general population. His mission is to stop the robots, called sentinels, from being created in the first place — and change the future. No biggie, right?
|‘X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST’
To succeed, Wolverine must persuade the younger versions of X and Magneto (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively), both of whom dislike each other at this point, to put aside their differences. X, known as Charles Xavier back then, is especially dubious as he’s living in disheveled seclusion (with another mutant, the Beast, played by Nicholas Hoult) and his school for mutants (seen in "X-Men: First Class") has been shuttered.
Wolverine has to persuade them to reel in rogue mutant Raven — aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) — who is planning to assassinate Dr. Trask. It’s that action, which sparks mass panic, that ultimately prompts the government to greenlight the production of the sentinels.
Everyone got that? Well, it doesn’t really matter as it’s a cool excuse for Singer to have fun with the ’70s. It’s superhero muscle meets "American Hustle." From Richard Nixon to "Sanford & Son," Singer makes inspired use of the decade as a cultural backdrop.
The high point is the introduction of the mutant Quicksilver (Evan Peters), whose special power is to move at the speed of light. His big action scene, set to Jim Croce’s folk ballad "Time in a Bottle," is the movie’s showpiece.
The time-travel scenario proves to be a clever way for Singer to meld the X-Men universes — the veterans introduced in "X-Men" in 2000 and their younger selves first seen in "X-Men: First Class" in 2011 — into one coherent world.
As the film moves to its conclusion, there’s less fun and more effects. But, even here, the acting abilities of McAvoy, Fassbender, Stewart and McKellen can make even the most cliche comic-book dialogue pulse with importance. In fact, McAvoy and Fassbender work off each other especially well.
And, if nothing else, there’s always that Buick Riviera.
Review by Cary Darling, Fort Worth Star-Telegram