The X-Men make a strong return in ‘Days of Future Past’

Old friends: Ian McKellen (left) and Patrick Stewart return as Magneto and Professor X.

Three and a half stars

X-Men: Days of Future Past Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence. Directed by Bryan Singer. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

Unlike the meticulously mapped-out Marvel cinematic universe, the X-Men series has unfolded a bit haphazardly, without a master plan for putting all the pieces in place. So Bryan Singer faces a bit of an uphill battle in bringing the disparate elements of the series together in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and wrangling the dozens of characters and various continuity threads while telling an exciting, engaging story is no easy task. Impressively, Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg mostly pull it off, delivering both a satisfying capstone for the series so far and a solid starting point for future installments.

The biggest selling point for Days of Future Past is the way it combines the casts of the first three X-Men movies (of which Singer directed the first two) and the 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class (directed by Matthew Vaughn, who gets a story credit here). That combination isn’t as balanced as some might expect; the older characters appear only in a dystopian future that functions mainly as a framing sequence, while the bulk of the action takes place in 1973 and focuses on the younger versions of Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). The only actor who gets to play in both time periods is Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, whose longevity and healing factor allow him to be sent back in time into the body of his younger self.

His goal is to halt the development of the mutant-hunting Sentinel robots that rule the bleak future, and to do so he must team up with Professor X, Magneto and the shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Singer has fun with the period details without going overboard, and Jackman is a solid anchor for the ambitious, multi-pronged story. Like most time travel movies, Days of Future Past eventually develops numerous plot holes, and Singer has to resort to a number of far-fetched work-arounds in order to square the continuity of the various previous movies.

But it’s easy to ignore all that when the plot is this thrilling, and even with a cluttered finale, the story is well-paced, suspenseful and high-stakes, without relying on the large-scale destruction used in too many recent blockbusters. Seeing Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry and other X-Men veterans reunited is a treat for fans, but the real accomplishment of Days of Future Past is throwing all of those characters and ideas together and using them to tell a genuinely entertaining story.

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