Director: Bryan SingerRating: PG-13Studio: **20th Century FoxStars: **Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence

Look, if Ian McKellen, one of the stars of X-Men: Days of Future Past, can cheerfully admit his confusion about what exactly is going on in the whiz-bang new action-futuristic movie, then we’re all—newbies and diehards alike—pretty much off the hook. What’s most important is that the latest iteration of the mutant superhero franchise—clearly a curtain-raiser for future installments—is in terrific shape, thanks to Simon Kinberg’s screenplay (with story credited to Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn and Kinberg) and a smashing return to form by original X-Men director Bryan Singer.

The movie’s time-tripping action, and there’s plenty of it, unfolds on two playing fields. In a nightmarish future, Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier, Ian McKellen’s Erik Lehnsherr and Hugh Jackman’s Logan are among the few survivors of an all-out slaughter of the mutants by the Sentinels, mutant-hunting giant robots. Desperate to rewrite this bleak future, Jackman’s Wolverine risks almost certain death to get sent back to tragic post-Vietnam War 1973. There, his mission is to band together two warring factions: the younger, burned-out druggy Charles (James McAvoy) and the mercurial, Pentagon-imprisoned Erik (Michael Fassbender), the latter believed to be the true assassin of President Kennedy. Their do-or-die efforts are meant to prevent the scaly, azure-colored changeling Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing the creator of the destructive robots, played by Peter Dinklage (who does what he can with a weakly devised role).

The moviemakers lay out the plot plots neatly and clearly and repeat them often. Still, it’s easy to lose one’s way, what with all the time shifting; the Easter Egg-style references to earlier X-Men epics and comics; the reintroduction of characters played by Ellen Page, Famke Janssen, James Marsden and Anna Paquin; and at least one flat-out astonishing, scene-stealing special effects sequence featuring quirky, funny Evan Peters as Quicksilver that almost derails the whole movie. In fact, Peters is such a kick, you might detect a noticeable energy drop when the character gets dropped after his big scene.

Still, the movie is the very best of the franchise since the first X-Men. It boasts terrific, organic special effects, considerable emotion and strong, lived-in performances from Jackman, Fassbender, McAvoy and Stewart. It’s state-of-the-art thrill ride stuff of the kind we hope for in superhero movies but seldom get. Bravo.