Leave it to the X-Men to put the fun back in summer blockbusters.
The crew from pretty much every film in this past, present and future franchise delivers the action and the laughs in X-Men: Days of Future Past, an all-star/all-X-Men outing designed to transition from the aging first- generation cast to their younger selves.
It's too long and so cluttered with characters and exposition that if you aren't a fan of the comics, you might feel as if you're being punished. But it delivers the 3-D thrills and the Wolverine (and Quicksilver) giggles — and how.
In a Terminator -like future, the robotic Sentinels have all but wiped out humanity and the mutants who love them. But with the aid of time-bending Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), the X-Men might be able to stop the mad — or at least greedy and irritable — scientist Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), who invented these machines during the Nixon administration. Future mutants send the graying Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), or at least his consciousness, back to 1973.
From the minute the guy wakes up in a world of lava lamps, Little Feat and Lectric Shave, things are popping. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his nemesis-turned-ally Magneto (Ian Mc Kellen) need Wolverine to convince their feuding young selves (James Mc Avoy and Michael Fassbender) to prevent a vendetta by Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) that dooms the future.
So Wolverine, the young Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and the two mutant leaders contend with the Vietnam War peace talks, President Richard Nixon, and the young soldier (Josh Helman) who will age into the evil Stryker as they chase Mystique hither and yon.
History is twisted and sent up, from the Kennedy assassination to Star Trek. They need to bust into the Pentagon, so they track down a punk teen, the future lightning-fast Quicksilver (Evan Peters, who kills in this part).
That break-in scene, in 3-D slow motion "bullet time," might be the coolest action beat ever filmed in 3-D and packs the biggest giggles in any X-Men film. Quicksilver hurtles through a sea of military police, misdirecting their guns, playing the "stop hitting yourself" game, giving wedgies.
Meanwhile, in the future, Bishop (Omar Sy), Storm (Halle Berry) and Blink (Bingbing Fan) try to hold off the Sentinels with some of the most spectacular effects (instant wormholes) you've ever seen in a fight scene.
The acting is all you could hope for from this cast, with Page bringing the empathy and Jackman delivering the cool. Dinklage could have added a bit more villainous glee, but McAvoy reinterprets Xavier nicely, and Lawrence doesn't let down the side.
There's no Stan Lee cameo, the onslaught of characters is a bit much and the third act drags and drags before delivering a heartfelt payoff. But Days of Future Past is most everything we'd hoped the summer's earlier popcorn pictures would be: fun.