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X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: 4 STARS. “ideas about racism, tolerance and rebellion.”

x-men-days-of-future-past-official-trailer-2-01“X-Men: Days of Future Past” offers up two for the price of one.

Merging the young versions of Magneto and Professor X with their older counterparts is a cool idea, and certainly gives the movie a boost in the marquee department, but I felt the old timers were left with their own heightened sense of drama and not much else. It seems a shame to have McKellen and Stewart, the Martin and Lewis of mutants, on screen together and not give them much to do.

Based on a 1981 two-issue special of the X-Men comic series the new film begins in a post-apocalyptic future. “A dark and desolate world,” according to the narration. “A world of war, suffering and loss on both sides—mutants and the humans who tried to help them.”

The causing all the trouble are indestructible robot warriors called Sentinels. Able to adapt to any mutant power they’ve created chaos for the mutant race, bringing them to the edge of extinction.

In an effort to “change their fate” long time enemies Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) team up with Storm (Halle Berry), Blink (Fan Bingbing), Bishop (Omar Sy) and use Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) teleportation ability to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to change history and prevent the creation of the murderous automations. His first task is to convince the 1973 versions of Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and young Professor X (James McAvoy) that they are stronger together than apart.

The only things larger than the movie’s lengthy list of stars are the big ideas contained within. Wrapped around a simple time travel story—the kind of thing “Family Guy” does once or twice a season—are timeless ideas about racism, tolerance, war and rebellion. Not usually the stuff of summer blockbusters, but the X-Men franchise has always been a bit brainier than most. At times it’s a bit too ponderous, but I’ll take that over the flash-and-trash of most CGI epics.

Not that it’s a total head trip. It’s a movie about time travel, mutants and serious actors like Michael Fassbender saying lines like, “We received a message from the future,” so, of course, it’s a little preposterous. That’s part of the fun. It plays with the conventions of big time summer entertainment—check out the spectacular time-shredding sequence featuring the lightening-fast mutant Quicksilver (Evan Peters) that’s both eye-popping and cheeky—but tempers the bombastic stuff with thought provoking notions.

In fact, it could be argued that the ideas are the stars of the film. Jennifer Lawrence is the a-listiest actress in Hollywood right now, but in her second outing as Mystique she almost gets cut adrift in a sea of characters. Ditto Peter Dinklage as the closest thing the film has to a villain.

They’re all good, but Magneto, Professor and Wolverine are complex, cool characters that bring the film’s themes to life; all the rest is set dressing, except for the Quicksilver scene. That was like The Matrix without Keanu’s hangdog expression.

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