Step up, cynics, and see the summer 2014 blockbuster that gets damn near everything right. X-Men: Days of Future Past tries to stuff the whole X-Men universe – past, present and future – into one movie. The character overload may leave X-Men newbies dazed and confused, unless they're blissfully stoned. But fans are in for an exhilarating rush.
Director Bryan Singer, beset by a sex scandal and the very real possibility of franchise fatigue (this is the seventh X-Men epic), returns to the game he started successfully in 2000 with X-Men and continued in 2003 with X2. He does himself proud, combining the pow of his early films with the game-changing playfulness of Matthew Vaughn's 2011 X-Men: First Class, which introduced James McAvoy as the boyish version of Patrick Stewart's telepathic Professor X and Michael Fassbender in a youthful take on Ian McKellen's metal-bending Magneto. McAvoy and Fassbender, both terrific, are still playing out a battle that pits peaceful coexistence against mutant world dominance.
The plot wrinkle supplied by screenwriter Simon Kinberg involves time travel. In the future, murderous robots known as Sentinels are hellbent on wiping out mutants and their human allies. That's when Professor X and Magneto use the powers of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973, when President Nixon (a hilarious Mark Camacho) approved the Sentinel plan hatched by übervillain Dr. Trask (the great Peter Dinklage having a blast).
No way am I spilling more. I will say that McAvoy and Stewart have a potent face-to-face, that Jackman catches the wit and warmth in Wolfie's confusion, and that Magneto's escape from a Pentagon prison is a wowser. For scene-stealing, the prize goes to Jennifer Lawrence, whose shape-shifting, blue-skinned Mystique is a match for any man or mutant, including Beast, her buddy in blue, played by Lawrence's off-screen love, Nicholas Hoult. Getting short shrift are Halle Berry's Storm, Shawn Ashmore's Iceman and Anna Paquin's Rogue. But you won't forget Evan Peters, who is dynamite as a speeding bullet known as Quicksilver.
OK, maybe Days of Future Past is merely a stopgap between First Class and the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse. But it's also a movie that uses action to define character and has the skills to make you care about outcasts in a society that hews spinelessly to the norm. A rousing epic of mind and heart in a summer of craven formula. Now that's something worth calling spectacular.