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‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’: Sometimes confounding, always exciting

Having blast past: Hugh Jackman 'X-Men: Days Future Past.' | 20th Century Fox

Having a blast in the past: Hugh Jackman in "X-Men: Days of Future Past." | 20th Century Fox

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Logan/Wolverine Hugh Jackman

Charles Xavier James McAvoy

Erik Lehnsherr Michael Fassbender

Raven/Mystique Jennifer Lawrence

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Bryan Singer and written by Simon Kinberg. Running time: 130 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Updated: June 24, 2014 6:25AM

Say what you will about Richard Nixon, he’s the only character to have a speaking role in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

If only John Cusack had played Nixon in both movies!

The weird thing is, Nixon’s actually less of a caricature in the “X-Men” movie than he was in the somber biopic.

While you wrap your mind around that, I’m still processing all the plot machinations and a timeline with some real head-scratchers in this sometimes illogical (even within the X-Men universe), periodically confounding, occasionally profound and consistently exciting sci-fi thriller.

Nearly a decade and a half after the release of the first big-screen “X-Men” adventure, the franchise has been energized. For a while there, it felt like this complex and densely populated franchise had run its course. (Hello, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”) But thanks to the first-class special effects, a star-packed cast, screenwriters who know just when to inject some self-aware comic relief without getting too jokey and director Bryan Singer’s skilled and sometimes electrifying visuals, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is flat-out big-time, big summer movie fun.

That said, if you start quizzing me about every character nuance that surfaces in this chapter, every script-flipping plot development and “Hey look!” cameo, I’d probably get booed right out of Comic-Con.

Here we go. “Days of Future Passed” opens in an apocalyptic present day, with Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Storm (Halle Berry) and a few other mutants fighting valiantly but badly outmatched by the seemingly unstoppable machine-beasts known as Sentinels, who were specifically designed to take them down. It appears as if the mutants (and any human who sympathizes with the mutants) are on the verge of extinction.

At this point in the “X-Men” timeline, Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) seem to be old friends, battle-weary and wondering why they wasted all those years at odds. After another close call with the Sentinels and with time running out, the two great titans gather with a few of the aforementioned mutants as well as Hugh Jackman’s Logan/Wolverine. (It’s a good thing Jackman remains in remarkable shape because his character has been bouncing around all over the place through the course of all these “X-Men” films, and we pretty much believe that’s the ageless Wolverine we’re looking at no matter where we find him.)

Apparently the X-Men are fans of the “Terminator” movies, because they come up with a time-travel solution to their dilemma: Kitty will send Logan back to 1974 (all of a sudden those sideburns don’t look so ridiculous!), when Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven/Mystique killed the architect of the Sentinel program, unwittingly setting off the chain of events that led to their almost-certain demise nearly a half-century later. Yes, it’s the old, “Let’s alter the time-space continuum” approach, which inevitably leads to some potholes in any plot.

Logan’s mission: to reunite the younger versions of Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), get them to believe he’s a visitor from the future and persuade them to stop Mystique.

(At this point I’d like to encourage you to see this movie in regular-D and not 3-D. As usual, the 3-D effects aren’t all that great, and as you no doubt have surmised by now, there’s more than enough in this plot to keep your head spinning.)

The 1970s section takes up the bulk of “Days of Future Past,” and to great effect. Director Singer (and his cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel) switch from the high-level video-game look of the modern sequences to a style that resembles the movies of the time. (Singer even shows us some key moments at public events as witnessed through the home-movie lenses of bystanders.)

Peter Dinklage is magnetic as Dr. Bolivar Trask, the scientist who heads up the Sentinel program. Like so many characters in the “X-Men” saga, Trask is either a deeply flawed sorta-good guy who believes he’s doing the right thing, or a villain who actually makes some pretty good points.

There’s not a bad performance in this film (though Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t make as much of a imprint as you might expect, in large part because she’s lost in that Mystique blue most of the time). Jackman does most of the heavy lifting, and he carries the film most of the way.

But even Jackman, Fassbender and McAvoy nearly disappear from the screen during the extended cameo from Peter Maximoff a.k.a. Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who can move much faster than the human (or mutant) eye can comprehend. In one of the most inspired sequences in the film, Singer goes with a bullet-time, super-slow motion style (and a hilariously perfect period-piece hit single) to show us exactly what Peter does in a split-second while everyone else is essentially frozen in place. It’s hard to imagine any audience not applauding at the end of this scene.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is a great-looking film with a dozen first-rate actors taking the material seriously but also having fun flexing their superhero powers.

Somehow even the Nixon stuff works.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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