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Cinema Signal: Lots of good stuff in this mutant play on time travel, but not everyone will love it. MOBILE version |
. "X-Men: Days of Future Past"

In a distant future, X-Men mutants come up against a "Sentinel," an immense machine designed to seek, recognize and destroy their breed. The encounter ends after a powerful struggle in which several mutants are atomized by the lethal ray it emits. A couple manage to escape.

Reeling with the horror and meaning of what this portends, Magneto, aka Erik Lensher (Ian McKellen, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug") and one time nemesis but now close friend Professor Charles Xavier bring together the full crew of our beloved mutant heros with their individual powers to meet in a hidden safe house to discuss the terror of an enemy against which they have no defense.

The mutants, people with unique superpowers that make them "different" are, truly, facing the end of their species. They reach the conclusion that their only hope of survival is to change the course of history. Fortunately, one of them can perform time travel.

Kitty Pryde's (Ellen Page) power is to be used to send a mutant's consciousness and apparent reality back to 1973, before the Sentinels were manufactured. Muscled-up Logan (Hugh Jackman, Wolverine), who has the power to regenerate wounds and is the most able to withstand the physical and mental strains of being sent back several decades, is chosen for the trip -- but not without Kitty's warnings that her power comes with limitations, including the possibility of a time traveler's sudden, painful, unwanted return.

He arrives when the moment is critical. Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) is convincing the U.S. president (who resembles Nixon) and administration leaders that the mutants pose a threat to the country and that he had the only means for their disposal. Machines, which he nas named "Sentinels," will be armed with all possible offenses and defenses to overcome any mutant counterattack. These robotic monsters were to be invincible.

These political leaders had no clue that they were about to approve and fund the destruction of men and women who were, in fact, a boon to mankind.

With all the technological wizardry at director Bryan Singer's disposal, he creates a tremendous struggle against the forces of evil. It includes close battle action instead of the distopian views of flattened cities.

Working with a script by Simon Kinberg, Singer sprinkles in a little humor, like having Logan awaken in previous time on a period waterbed alongside a lava lamp. Production Designer John Myhre takes us back that the mature in the audience will remember: the costumes, cars, and the visual atmosphere. Director of Photography Newtone Thomas Sigel underscores that with a change in look with bright but saturated color to contrast against the shadowy darkness of future time.

Time travel is also a unique platform for character development with the chance to show the stark differences between the mature mutants as we know them from prior episodes and the nastier or emotionally stressed individuals they were in their relative youth.

The process is not going to be a walk in the park for Logan, who must use all his guile and powers of persuasion to bring stubborn colleagues around to understanding that they must put aside all irritations and betrayals in order to focus on existential danger from an as yet unseen enemy.

Trask's obsession with Mystique and her DNA is mirrored by her own obsession to murder the evil doctor. The shape changer, in the very good shape of Jennifer Lawrence, is operating as a rogue who has broken ties to her former colleagues. This gets her a lot of screen time with quick transformations from character to character - easily one of the more charming effects from the CGI team and a big draw for the series -- a big crowd pleaser.

As villains go, Dinklage's Trask is dialed back. The threat the evil engineer poses isn't pumped up with a lot of hysteria, which is good, but could also be seen as an element of low charge.

Key players in what is a large ensemble cast include: Charles (young Magneto) Xavier (James McAvoy), Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Halle Berry), Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Bobby/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Peter/Quicksilver (Evan Peters). All have plenty on their plate. including athletic performances.

The old guys in future time, Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Professer X (Patrick Stewart), come together with past sins forgiven (but not forgotten) in a commonality of interest, perhaps some charity, and the cameraderie of mature friendship.

Jackman, as the only X-Man who experiences both time zones, will also be the only one who will remember the bleak destiny he thwarted (if he manages to, and returns in one piece to future time).

Fassbender, with an ultra jowly countenance, and McAvoy, get a great deal of chin level close-ups and powdery makeup that is a standard of comic strip illustration -- just one sign of the detailing in Singer's cinematic artistry.

The essential subtext behind the X-Men concept is the role of the different in a society which exists for the normal. Lest this metaphoric resemblance to those tendencies in our own world societies might be lost on someone in the audience, Fassbender is given the speech to define it, but it hardly needs punching up and it comes with a dull, stagey thud in the stream of action and drama.

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" manages to remain closer to its own logic than many a futuristic thrill epic, and it benefits from clarity. At no time do we forget what's at stake and all power is aimed at a terrifyingly tenuous solution. In a film universe in which it's sometimes challenging to find at least one character to cheer for, this ensemble is loaded with them, each endowed with a special power, coordinated into a common defense.

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                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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