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MOVIE REVIEW: ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ has considerable audio/visual punch equal to its narrative heft

If you include the two “Wolverine” spin-offs, there have now been seven “X-Men” movies produced since 2000 and there’s not a single clunker in the bunch. It can be argued that this is the most successful uninterrupted franchise in movie history, both from commercial and creative perspectives and perhaps intellectually. Before all’s said and done (there’s at least one more installment yet to go), it could end up eclipsing the “Harry Potter” flicks at the worldwide box office.

Pinching the title from an old Moody Blues album, “Days of Future Past” picks up where both the 2006 “Last Stand” and the 2011 origin prequel “First Class” left off. The plot involves a great deal of back and forth between the past (1973) and the future, covers four continents and works in real life historical events in a most clever and tongue-in-cheek manner and does all of this without breaking the cardinal sci-fi rule. It establishes its own set of rules and never once alters them for the sake of accommodating a gap in the screenplay.

“Days” sees the return of Bryan Singer, the director of the first two installments who foolishly jumped ship in an ill-advised attempt to reignite the dormant “Superman” franchise. The 11-year break has given Singer a huge breath of visionary fresh wind and in tandem with writer Simon Kinberg has indeed crafted cinematic rarity: a high-end summer tent pole/popcorn movie whose considerable audio/visual punch is equal to its narrative heft.

It opens in China where what’s left of the X-Men clan is trying to stave off annihilation. Longtime foes Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) have mended fences and are working on a common goal. Their enemy is an army of robots that can assume the signature powers of any mutant they come into contact with, thus making the mutants easy prey. The robots were created by Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage), a ’70s era scientist who was doing black-op work for the Nixon administration.

The robots are the way they are because Trask acquired some mutant DNA and it falls on Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to go back in time to not only prevent this acquisition but to also get the feuding younger versions of Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to see eye-to-eye and he must do this with ’70s technology. That means no metal claws, just bones and questionable attire.

Matching “American Hustle” in terms of quality and authenticity with wardrobe and soundtrack, Singer and his creative team frequently alter the stock to match what was available at the time and painstakingly recreate news reels covering the 1973 Paris Peace Accords that marked the end of the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

This set-up works out well for dual “American Hustle”/“X-Men” cast member Jennifer Lawrence, whose Raven/Mystique character often dons hippie-chick garb while speaking French and Vietnamese and being both a protagonist and antagonist. It also helps the dramatic tension that Mystique was/is a love interest of both Xavier and Magneto.

At points throughout (thankfully not too many) Singer goes a tad extreme with the battle sequences that all invariably take place at night, are edited too fast and have too much stuff blowing up. During these passages “Days” takes on the gaudy air of a “Transformers” flick, but Singer more than makes up for it with one of the most clever slow-motion action scenes ever committed to film, or in this case digital ones and zeros.

Taking place in the bowels of the Pentagon, it involves a prison break of sorts and a confrontation between security guards and Magneto, Wolverine, Xavier and Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult). Singer takes what would be less than a second of real time and stretches it into well over a minute with mutant Quicksilver (Shawn Ashmore) circling the walls, rearranging the positions of the guards and altering the flights of the bullets all while listening to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” through ear pods. It is the highlight in a film strewn with highlights and sets a new bar not only for CGI technology but for also putting it to innovative use.

“X-Men” faithful will be beyond thrilled with the bountiful amount of past character cameos which, thanks to time travel, make complete sense yet also come with bittersweet memories.

Ending with dangling plot threads that could go in any number of different directions, “Days” sets the stage for the 2016 “Apocalypse” which will again be helmed by Singer and — as of now — marks the return of the core cast. It would be cool and beyond poetic if the eighth installment was the last in the series. It would offer a classy and fitting end to a franchise that has exceeded expectations for its entire glorious run. (Fox)