If you enter "Future Past" just having watched an "X-Men" marathon, you are golden. You can use your encyclopedic knowledge of this comics universe to understand the importance of a seconds-long appearance of a character, and cheer it.
Otherwise, "Future Past" just seems crowded with characters constantly talking philosophies or trying to persuade someone else to change his or her mind or take action – and not enough subsequent action.
Mystique shape-shifts and Erik/Magneto controls airborne metal objects, but the big set pieces one expects from a comics film are few. Either that, or they did not leave enough of an impression to seem like set pieces.
A rousing third act, and stirring performances by Michael Fassbender (younger Erik) and James McAvoy (younger Charles), who do get enough screen time, and by Hugh Jackman – always a cranky, grounding force amid the sci-fi as Logan/Wolverine – will compensate. But not fully.
Bryan Singer, director of the first two X-men films, returns to the franchise with "Future Past," which starts in a near future in which giant government-sent enforcers called Sentinels are killing mutants. The mutant brain trust – Professor X, Magneto, Kitty (Ellen Page) – try to stop this by sending Logan back to 1973 to change the future. The age-less, injury-defying Logan goes back because he seems most able to weather the taxing nature of time travel.
Logan's aim is to stop Mystique, assassin of mutant haters, from killing the Sentinels' designer, Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage), which she did in 1973. The government apprehended her, and used her extraordinary DNA to further empower the Sentinels.
Logan's body stays at the X-Men compound as his consciousness travels back to his 1973 self. Kitty, an old hand at moving through objects, aids his transition, her hands sending waves of power to his head. Logan says goodbye to the older Charles (Stewart) whose younger self (McAvoy) he will need to lobby for help to stop Mystique, with whom Charles grew up.
Got it? It's convoluted, and requires making character connections quickly. But the prospect of seeing the gruff-but-game Logan in '70s clothes seems fun enough. A sense of fun intensifies when 1973 Logan wakes up gruff but also in the buff, with Jacked-man allowing a gratuitous shot of his nude haunches as well as his veiny arms.
But Singer quickly dashes hopes for "American Hustle" flash. First off, '73 was not a good year for clothes or design. But Singer, who always has displayed a dreary visual sense, drags out the ugliest examples, with tons of browns and diagonal patterns.
Second, Washington, D.C., is America's least sexy city now and especially then, and key scenes in "Future Past" happen there, because Trask wants to work with the government. The appearance of President Richard Nixon (a dead-on Mark Camacho) kills any semblance of friskiness.
The visuals also carry a slightly darkened cast that never allows sunlight fully through. "Future Past" always looks flat compared with director Matthew Vaughn's warmer, 1960s-set "First Class."
But McAvoy and Fassbender shine anyhow, getting around all that bad fashion by going the British-chic route associated with Formula One racing and Julie Christie. And they slice through all visual gloom with their razor-sharp charisma. The eyes of each glisten with emotion and/or determination. Contrast this with Lawrence's eyes, which glisten with "I already am doing &‘The Hunger Games,' do I have to keep doing this, too?"