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Movie Review: Time-bending X-Men is a blast from the ‘Future Past’

Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique in
Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique in "X-Men: Days of Future Past."

X-Men: Days of Future Past”
★★★

It’s no surprise, given it’s $200-million budget, that the latest “X-Men” installment is chockablock with super-heroic mega-spectacular action, but it’s nice to report that it also tosses in a little deep-thinking philosophy — just a dash for flavor.

The ingredient that really makes it fly is humor, a nearly constant undercurrent of wit and wise-guy attitude that makes “Days of Future Past” much more entertaining than the average superhero rave-up.

Of course, it helps that much of the is set in the early ’70s, an era featuring hair stylings that make the time-traveling Wolverine feel right at home.

“Days” opens in the bleak future where the mutants as well as the homo-generic population is on the verge of eradication by an army of giant, shape-shifting robots called Sentinels.

A band of the original “X-Men” cast including Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellan) and assorted lesser-knowns is preparing to make a last stand in an abandoned Himalayan fortress when the Professor concocts a cunning plan. The entire apocalyptic war with the Sentinels began back in 1973 when the shape-shifting Mystique, seeking vengeance for fatal lab experiments on fellow mutants, assassinated Sentinel inventor Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). So, why not send someone back in time to stop her? Especially since the time-manipulating Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) just happens to be here?

It’s going to be a rough ride, of course, so the unusually resilient Wolverine is chosen to make the trip. All he has to do is find the younger versions of the Professor (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and convince them to help.

It’s a complicated set-up, but “Days” has a fairly simple objective after Wolverine suddenly wakes up staring at a lava lamp and listening to a Roberta Flack record while undulating on a waterbed. His mission is to find locate the Professor, track down Mystique, get involved in as many action sequences as possible and generate the maximum number of laughs while doing it.

Director Bryan Singer, returning to the franchise he launched after disappointing outcomes with “Superman Returns” and “Jack the Giant Killer,” handles those requirements admirably well, though it all wears on a little too long toward the end. Arcane plot complications become a bit hard to follow if you’re not a hard-core fan hip to the minutiae of the X-Men mythology.

On the plus side, though, McAvoy displays impressive depth as the drug-dependent Professor, who’s lost faith in his life mission partially because Magneto has coaxed his beloved Raven/Mystique over to the dark side in the name of striking a blow for mutant liberation.

And every so often a particularly impressive action sequence pops up to keep things interesting. Most notable is a moment when the good guys are breaking Magneto out of prison and the young, snarky Quicksilver (Evan Peters of “American Horror Story”), uses his super-speed to perform some slo-mo bullet-cam slapstick moves that are well worth the price of admission on their own.

Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” will never sound quite the same again.

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