‘X-Men’ is X-citing | 3 stars

05/22/2014 8:00 AM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

“The future. A dark, desolate world,” intones Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart).

In the ambitious and trippy superhero thriller “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” this particular future finds the heroes of filmmaker Bryan Singer’s past “X-Men” movies facing extinction.

Huge robots called Sentinels have evolved into shape-shifting hunters designed to terminate mutants. Xavier, Magneto (Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and a colorful handful of others must retreat from one failed stronghold to another.

Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Bishop (Omar Sy) have helped the team survive by combining their phasing and time-jumping powers, going back a few hours to warn themselves of imminent assaults. Xavier suggests they should return even further — decades even — to prevent the Sentinels from being created.

Wolverine’s healing abilities make him the only feasible candidate. So his consciousness gets transported back, “Avatar”-style, to his 1970s body, where he meets younger versions of these mutants, played by the stars of Matthew Vaughn’s 2011 “X-Men: First Class.”

Together, they must keep changeling Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating Sentinels inventor Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), which they pinpoint to be the event that started this nightmarish future.

After all, you can’t spell “dystopian” without “stop.”

The novelty has somewhat worn off after we’ve been bombarded by six previous “X-Men”/“Wolverine” efforts and umpteen other Marvel flicks. But the talent has never been better than in this rousing adventure.

Singer is already responsible for some of the finest superhero adaptations (if we politely ignore his “Superman Returns”). Here, he has the advantage of pooling casts from both X-universes, which are now loaded with Oscar winners/nominees.

Sound like a lot of actors? It is, but there are actually fewer characters in play than in the last two “X-Men” films. The plot focuses on Xavier and Magneto, whether portrayed by their old or young counterparts, as well as Wolverine and Mystique.

Singer wisely hinges their conflicts on philosophical differences, allowing the performers (especially James McAvoy as a drug-addicted young Xavier and Michael Fassbender as his dark rival Magneto) to burrow into their roles. These clashes of idealism prove far more interesting than watching a bunch of random freaks attack each other, as in Brett Ratner’s junky third entry, “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

Just as “First Class” entwined its action with the real Cuban missile crisis of 1962, “Days of Future Past” incorporates the Paris peace accords of 1973. Singer has fun indulging in the retro setting of water beds, lava lamps and bell-bottoms. Lawrence looks particularly cozy returning to her “American Hustle” decade. Plus, Wolverine’s sideburns are finally in style.

The most fun — and arguably the best sequence in any Marvel movie — happens when the team endeavors to break Magneto out of a cell in the center of the 6-million-square-foot Pentagon. They recruit Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a stoner teenage mutant who can operate at supersonic speeds.

With Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” on the soundtrack, he dispatches a horde of military police who’ve opened fire on the crew. Seen from his accelerated perspective, Quicksilver darts within the chaos to balletically redirect their bullets, meddle with uniforms and give wedgies. Pure bliss.

Many fans quit reading X-Men comics in the ’80s (which is when this Chris Claremont/John Byrne plotline first appeared) because the stories got so convoluted, with multiple crossovers and alternate histories. You practically needed a flowchart the size of a billboard.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” verges on that same overkill. Fortunately, Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg (“Sherlock Holmes”) orchestrate the multiple timelines with “Terminator”-like precision. Despite a draggy third act that could use a dose of cinematic Quicksilver, the film builds to a gratifying walk-into-the-sunset conclusion.

At least until Singer’s 2016 “X:Men: Apocalypse,” which is cryptically teased during a post-credits sequence.

‘X-MEN’

Rated PG-13

Time: 2:12

3-D OR NOT 3-D?

The 3-D conversion is well-executed but doesn’t add much. The visuals are dynamic enough without the glasses.

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