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‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ gets job done

5/29/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

James McAvoy, at left, and Patrick Stewart star in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”
Photo courtesy of Marvel/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.
One thing that differentiates “X-Men: Days of Future Past” from the other 137 superhero movies opening this year is that it’s pretty self-contained.

Its core group of characters — the “mutants,” who are gifted with unique powers — are all the heroes and villains you need for a compelling story. And while a few folks are added to the mix, and one is responsible for the movie’s zaniest scene, it’s still the members of the regular roster that carry the load.

The movie, directed by Bryan Singer, brings back much of the cast of the previous “X-Men” films going back to 2000, as well as the cast of the 2011 prequel that had other actors playing the characters’ younger selves. It finds room for everyone thanks to a time-travel plot that isn’t strong on logic but is fun nonetheless.

The movie opens in a future that is (surprise!) dystopian and bleak. The mutants, led by Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and his sometimes-partner-sometimes-nemesis Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen), are being hunted by flying killer robots called “Sentinels.” Even for the mutants, whose powers allow them to control the weather and jump through wormholes, it’s not a winnable fight.

In their desperation, a plan is hatched where Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) sends Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973 so he can alter the course of history, Why Wolverine and why 1973? The movie has its own explanation, but I suspect it’s because the filmmakers thought it would be a hoot to have a scene where the metal-clawed Wolverine encounters a waterbed. (If so, they were right.)

Central to Wolverine’s ’70s stopover is Mystique, a shape-shifter played by Jennifer Lawrence. In a move that could have calamitous consequence, Mystique (who also goes by the name of Raven) plans on permanently ending the research conducted by mutant-obsessed scientist Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). Thanks partly to the actors playing them, Mystique and Trask are intriguing characters, but theirs is not the battle to end all battles. More interesting is the cold war between the younger Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and the younger Erik (Michael Fassbender), who must bury their mutual mistrust and join forces. McAvoy has the meatiest role of the two, as his Charles is a defeated, drug-addled wreck. (Fassbender’s character is burdened with a backstory involving a former president that left me wondering, “Should the screenwriters really have gone there?” Also, he looks disconcertingly like Steve Martin when he’s wearing the Magneto helmet.)

The movie has some great action scenes featuring the “X-Men” returnees, but the standout scene is one involving a newcomer to the series. Evan Peters plays Peter/Ouicksilver, a sullen, Pong-playing teen who is blessed/cursed with his own superpower. I won’t spoil how he puts his gift to use, but if this is his audition to join the core X-Men group, it should do the job.

The movie, currently in theaters, is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language.

(out of four)

Craig Marks is a cartoonist and editorial, sports and entertainment writer for the West Side Leader.

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