x-men days of future past reviewWell, it's another summer weekend, which means that another giant superhero movie, coming at you in deluxe surround sound and in eye-straining 3D, will be hitting the big screen. (Remember when Memorial Day used to be the weekend when the big movies really started?)

This time up at the plate are the X-Men in "X-Men: Days of Future Past," those band of merry mutants last seen in 2011's ultra-swank reboot "X-Men: First Class." This time, original "X-Men" director Bryan Singer returns to the franchise he created and unifies the two halves of the series. While the plot doesn't matter much (it involves time travel and parallel dimensions and Hugh Jackman's Wolverine), the cast (including Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Ellen Page) does.

It's a typical superhero movie in the sense that it's full of spectacle but also deep melancholy, with both factions of mutants teaming together to stop an assassination that leads, decades down the line, to the near-extermination of their race. And also, since the movie is largely set in the '70s: bell-bottoms. Now those are more terrifying than a race of powerful, mutant-exterminating robots.

But does this super-complex superhero saga make the grade? Or should we just have stuck with a follow-up to the comparatively simpler "X-Men: First Class"?

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

1. It's a Sequel to 'X-Men: First Class'
Back in 2011, Matthew Vaughn's "X-Men: First Class" hit the big screen as a kind of reboot of the original franchise, which was started by filmmaker Singer with "X-Men" and "X2: X-Men United" and continued by Brett Ratner in "X-Men: The Last Stand." It was set in the '60s and featured a new cast of super-powered mutants, who were learning to deal with their abilities together. And more importantly, it had an entirely different vibe, like a European spy movie that just happened to feature characters that could bend the fabric of reality. So this features a handful of those characters, like Magneto (Fassbender), Professor X (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and Mystique (Lawrence). But as promising as that film was, much of it has been thrown away, including whole swaths of the cast (goodbye, January Jones! You looked really hot in lingerie!)

2. It's Also the Sequel to 'X-Men: The Last Stand'
What the deletion of much of the cast and continuity of the first film (Professor X can walk again!) and the return of most of the principles from the original X-movies (including Halle Berry, come to think of it), "X-Men: Days of Future Past" functions as a sequel to "X-Men: The Last Stand." And, not to spoil anything, but after Wolverine's time-hopping exploits, the possibility is set up for additional adventures with that older cast. This is the cinematic equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. So... yay?

3. Wolverine Is Basically Austin Powers
The idea of Wolverine going back in time is always fun. A lot of the charm of last year's deeply underrated "The Wolverine" was watching the character in World War II-era Japan, a setting that has given us some of Logan's most memorable moments in the comic books (seriously, get Brian K. Vaughan's gorgeously water-colored "Logan" -- it's breathtaking). There's an extra, meta-textual kick from seeing Wolverine in a place before he was created in the comic books, in the '80s, and, of course, endless possibilities for fish-out-of-water comedy (or is it fish-back-in-water, since he'd already been there before?) Sadly, the movie doesn't play up the hilarity of Wolverine being back in the '80s, aside from a joke about lava lamps and some offhanded remarks. Oh well. Maybe there'll be a director's cut where the movie remembers it was based on a comic book.

4. The Magneto Jailbreak Sequence Is Great
"X-Men: Days of Future Past" is largely full of overstuffed action set pieces that aren't in the least bit exciting or visually engaging... Except for one. One of Wolverine and Professor X's first orders of business is to break Magneto, imprisoned at the end of the last film, out of a high tech jail underneath the Pentagon. They enlist the help of a new mutant, Quicksilver (Evan Peters from "American Horror Story") and the entire sequence is just delightful. Thinking about it, weeks later, I'm still getting goosebumps. It's great -- beautifully choreographed, wittily staged, and funny as hell. Oh man it's great. The other action sequences? Not so much.

5. It Looks Not-So-Great
At one point, there was talk of "X-Men: Days of Future Past" being released via the god-awful rapid frame rate technology that made Peter Jackson's $200 million fantasy "The Hobbit" look like an HD soccer broadcast. Thank god that didn't happen. But it looks like the movie was shot using those crummy rapid frame rate cameras, which leaves the image muddy and undefined (and not soft in a '70s way but soft in a maybe I need to change my prescription in these lenses way). It's a shame, too, because the period setting and abundance of visual effects could have lent itself to some nice texture and stylization. Alas, it was not meant to be.

6. The Future Stuff Doesn't Add Up to Much
Yes, the old timers are back, but it doesn't add up to a whole lot. The future-world stuff maybe takes up 10 minutes total, and every time Singer cuts back to it you want to let out an audible groan. It's not very compelling, and, even if it was, it doesn't mean much considering the fact that if Wolverine is successful in his mission (and, spoiler alert, he is), then that future means virtually nothing. Oh well.

7. There's Much More J-Law This Time
True, the two-issue comic-book miniseries that the movie is based on did feature Jennifer Lawrence's deadly shape-shifter Mystique in a prominent role, there is waaaaay more Mystique here than there has ever been in earlier movies. But that's what happens when you have the hottest actress on the planet in the role. Not only is the actress a tremendous talent and was a heartbeat away from winning another Oscar this year for her larger-than-life performance in David O. Russell's "American Hustle," but she also anchors the biggest franchise around: "The Hunger Games." And she's adorable, even underneath all that blue paint.

8. Bryan Singer Is Back But His Politics Aren't
Singer turned the "X-Men" into the ultimate metaphor for the discriminated-against outsider, and "X2" is one of the better movies about what it's like being a gay teenager, at least in terms of mainstream cinema (the "coming out" scene is classic). Sadly, "X-Men: Days of Future Past" isn't really about anything. There aren't any underlying metaphors Singer wishes to plumb, with the entire movie feeling like a hollow exercise in Hollywood showmanship and not, as was true of the earlier movies, a $150 million personal exploration that just so happened to feature characters who could fire laser beams out of their eyes.

9. Next Time, You'll Just Want the Younger Cast
Honestly, the old fogies drag the movie down. "X-Men: First Class" was so much fun because of its youthful energy, and Vaughn's willingness to throw everything at the wall in an effort to see what sticks. And the actors he chose are genuinely wonderful. When you have Fassbender and McAvoy do you really need McKellen and Stewart? Honestly, no.

10. There's an Post-Credits Treat
Yep. There's something after the credits (which seem to go on for about 15 minutes). It's hard to explain what, exactly, this is, but considering they've already announced "X-Men: Apocalypse," which should be a more straight-up sequel to "X-Men: First Class" than whatever this was, that probably has something to do with it. But if you have a train to catch or really need to pee, you're not missing much.

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" hits theaters Friday, May 23.

Photo courtesy Fox

X-Men: Days Of Future Past
PG-132014
Based on 43 critics

The X-Men join forces with their earlier selves to change a pivotal historical event. Read More

categories Movies, Reviews