A family film based on a classic cartoon series and a superhero adventure featuring Marvel’s X-Men anchor this week’s home video releases.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD and digital download
In 2011, producer Bryan Singer and director Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass”) reinvigorated the X-Men movie franchise by presenting a story from the early days of the franchise’s heroic characters. This necessitated younger versions of many key players, including Professor Charles Xavier and his archrival Magneto. With “Days of Future Past,” Singer takes over directing duties and performs a careful balancing act, mixing the cast of “First Class” with that of the first three “X-Men” films.
The movie begins in a bleak future world where an ongoing war between mutants and human-created Sentinel robots has left both species in misery. One band of mutants has learned to successfully evade the Sentinels using Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) ability to project a person’s consciousness into the past. Realizing they can’t run forever, the group meets with Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and other mutants, forming a plan to save the future by changing the past.
Most mutants are unable to travel a significant distance into the past because of the strain it puts on their psyche, but Wolverine believes his superhuman abilities will allow him to make the journey. So, Kitty projects Wolverine’s consciousness to the 1970s where he seeks out younger versions of Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in an attempt to prevent the Sentinel program from coming online.
Traveling to the past in hopes of changing history is a common theme in science fiction. In fact, it’s the backbone of the “Terminator” franchise. Because of that, “Days of Future Past” could have felt redundant, but Singer doesn’t allow that. Although we’ve seen the central plot machination before, moviegoers haven’t seen it applied to these characters.
Singer – who also directed the first two “X-Men” films – has always done a masterful job spreading screen time amongst the many heroes, and he continues that trend here. Viewers get time with a variety of favorites, including Beast, Rogue, Iceman, Colossus and Quicksilver, but “Days of Future Past” still maintains an emotional center, most of it driven by Wolverine’s interactions with Xavier and Magneto.
The film is also a special effects extravaganza, which is to be expected from any modern movie about super beings. The climax, in particular, is a blast to watch, but Singer never allows the film to digress into action-porn. “Days of Future Past” is an adventure film, but the plot is rooted in character drama. That puts it a step above the average blockbuster, and qualifies it as yet another hit for the folks at Marvel Comics.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel and several behind-the-scenes features.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Rated PG for some mild action and brief rude humor
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD and digital download
The characters of Mr. Peabody and Sherman were originated as supporting players in the “The Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends Show,” a 1950s and ’60s cartoon series. The twist, in the series – and the new computer-animated movie – is that Peabody (a dog) is a brilliant inventor who adopts a human boy.
Peabody’s most impressive invention is a time machine dubbed the WABAC, and the dog and his boy regularly use it to witness historic events first hand. This makes Sherman brighter than the average 7-year-old, and that creates tension when he begins school. After showing off his superior intellect during a history lesson, Sherman gets into a fight with a female classmate named Penny.
An overzealous social services representative uses Sherman’s school problems as an excuse to try and take the boy from Peabody, who she doesn’t view as an appropriate parent. Determined to keep their family together, Peabody invites Penny and her parents to dinner, hoping the children will reconcile and the situation will go away. It seems like a good idea until Penny and Sherman covertly use the WABAC, launching all of the characters into a time-traveling adventure.
The plotting takes the characters through a variety of time periods and locations, landing them everywhere from ancient Egypt to Renaissance-era Italy. They also meet a host of famous historical figures, including Abraham Lincoln, Leonardo da Vinci, the Greek King Agamemnon and Marie Antoinette.
In some time-travel stories, characters take great care not to influence the past, but Peabody, Sherman and Penny run amok. That adds to the humor, as the modern-day heroes have sometimes-significant impact on the lives and work of famous figures.
The broad plot of the film is not as entertaining as the ongoing interactions with historical figures, but that doesn’t diminish the fun. Director Rob Minkoff (“The Forbidden Kingdom,” “Stuart Little”) paces the material briskly, and the animation is sharp and colorful.
The movie’s voice cast isn’t as star-studded as that in many animated films, but that’s not a knock. In fact, better-known voice actors might have become a distraction. Ty Burrell does a fine job as the always-refined Peabody, Max Charles is solid as Sherman and Ariel Winter is terrific as Penny. Together this group produces an animated film that entertains while giving young viewers a rudimentary introduction to the joys of world history. Perhaps some of those youth will use it as an opportunity for more serious exploration.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include a photo gallery, an animated tour of the WABAC machine and a short about the possibilities of real-life time travel.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Penny Dreadful” – The Complete First Season: The horror genre is having a good run on TV, as is evidenced by this Showtime series centered on characters from classic horror novels. Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and key players from “Dracula” all appear in the first eight episodes of the serial thriller. Eva Green, Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett also star.
“Fargo” – Season One: This FX TV series, which is centered on a series of grisly murders, won Emmys for Outstanding Miniseries and Outstanding Directing. Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks and Martin Freeman star.
“Dracula” – Season 1: This drama – based on characters from Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel – lasted only 10 episodes on NBC. Now, disappointed fans can own them.
“My Darling Clementine”: The Criterion Collection releases a fresh digital restoration of director John Ford’s 1946 Western about Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and his famed shootout at the O.K. Corral.
“America – Imagine the World Without Her”: Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza (“2016: Obama’s America”) delivers a documentary arguing that America is often wrongfully denigrated.
“The Last Supper”: Writer-director Lu Chuan delivers a martial arts drama about Liu Bang, the first emperor of China’s Han Dynasty. Presented in Mandarin with English subtitles.
“The Equation of Life”: Thirty-two minute dramatic film about the awfulness of bullying. The project is particularly interesting because its director – Gerry Orz – was just 12 when he filmed it.
“2 Broke Girls” – The Complete Third Season: The most recent 24 episodes of CBS’s series about financially struggling waitresses (Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs) who hope to start a cupcake business.
Two and a Half Men” – The Complete Eleventh Season: The 22 episodes on this boxed set lead into what is promised to be the final season of the long-running CBS sitcom.
“Murdoch Mysteries” – Season 7: Eighteen episodes of the Canadian drama about a detective (Yannick Bisson) who solves crimes in Victorian Toronto. The show airs in the U.S. under the name “The Artful Detective.”
“Locked In”: Thriller about a devastated father (Ben Barnes) who starts to believe his comatose daughter is communicating with him telepathically. Sarah Roemer, Eliza Dushku and Johnny Whitworth also star.
“Pawn Stars – A Very Vegas Christmas Special”: Cast members from three History Channel reality shows – “Pawn Stars,” “Counting Cars” and “American Restoration” – gather for a holiday-themed program.
“Mobilize”: Documentary considering the potential health effects of long-term exposure to cell phone radiation.
“The Good Witch” Collection: Available exclusively from Amazon, this boxed set includes four movies from Hallmark Channel’s “Good Witch” franchise: “The Good Witch’s Garden,” “The Good Witch’s Gift,” “The Good Witch’s Family” and “The Good Witch’s Charm.”
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at email@example.com.