'X-Men: Days of Future Past' ***
The subtitle of the latest X-Men installment, “Days of Future Past” – a bit of wordplay inspired by the Moody Blues album “Days of Future Passed” – may not mean too much, literally, without a toke of wacky weed to enhance its time-trippy poetry. But the phrase's evocation of chronology folding in on itself is an effective metaphor for the dual settings of the film, which takes place both in 1973, on the eve of the Paris Peace Accords that ended the Vietnam War, and 50 years hence, when the world of tomorrow has become embroiled in another battle, this time between giant robots and human mutants.
You don't need drugs to appreciate the cosmic parallels of the situation, but you might want an aspirin or two to calm your head while trying to iron out all the logical paradoxes inherent in this latest installment in the long-running Marvel Comics saga. The new film centers on the efforts of the mutant superhero Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to forestall World War III by traveling back in time – from the 2020s to the 1970s – to stop the assassination of an industrialist that leads to our dystopian future. The plot alone, which is drawn from two issues of “The Uncanny X-Men” comic book series from 1980, is enough to make you want a drink.
On second thought, just say no. Not to the movie – it's a gas – but to mind-altering substances of any kind. “Days of Future Past” is, in itself, as intoxicating as a shot of adrenaline. It's what summer movies are meant to be.
Does it answer the nagging question of how Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) can possibly still be alive after exploding into bits at the end of 2006's “X-Men: The Last Stand”? Or how Wolverine has metal claws again, after having them amputated at the end of last year's “The Wolverine”? No, it does not. And so what? The movie provides enough of a buzz that, by the end, you just won't care anymore.
Plus, it wipes out all those bad feelings left by “Last Stand,” which is widely reviled by fans as one of the worst films in the franchise (next to, of course, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”). Because it involves time travel, “Days of Future Past” can set many things right that, for so many fans, went so wrong with “Last Stand.” And it does.
“Days of Future Past” opens in the future, when an army of mutant-hunting automatons called Sentinels have all but exterminated the lovable genetic freaks, or X-Men, at the center of the comic-book mythology. Discovering that one of their number (Ellen Page's Kitty) has developed the ability to send people back in time, the X-Men's elder statesmen – Xavier and his perennial frenemy, Magneto (Ian McKellen) – elect to rewrite history, as myriad movies have done before, in the hope that it will change the present.
Wolverine is just the man for the job. His mission? Stop fellow mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing robot-designer Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), whose death, fueling anti-mutant sentiment, precipitated the rise of the machines.
Of course, this is easier said than done (and it ain't all that easily said). Wolverine not only has to persuade the younger versions of Xavier and Magneto (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) to help him, but it also turns out that everyone has their own petty agenda. One more thing: Back in 1973, Magneto is in jail, charged with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It's a nice touch, if a little ghoulish.
Recruited for the necessary breakout is a mutant called Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who can move faster than the speed of sound. He steals the whole film, in a thrilling and hilarious sequence depicting just how molasses-like the world feels to someone who can get around as fast as he can. The stop-time effect used here is a triumph of modern movie-making and will set a high bar for action movies for years to come.
“Days of Future Past” is not a perfect movie, thanks mostly to time-travel anomalies that spring leaks in an otherwise airtight construction. While the 1973 action appears to take place over several days, for instance, the parallel action in the future seems to take only several hours.
But I'm not kidding when I say this doesn't matter. There's a certain amount of compensation that goes on with any X-Men movie. The franchise's fans expect certain characters to look and behave in certain ways. Some, I'm sure, will quibble about the appearance of Quicksilver, who looks like a surf punk, or the fact that Kitty, whose mutant ability was previously limited to walking through walls, can suddenly conjure up time travel.
Yet, for many of these fans – myself included – the disappointment eventually dissipates, not because we get the movie we want, but because we get the one we need.