Captain Kirk and company tinkered with time travel to help out the whales in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home." Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fought with an older version of himself (Bruce Willis) to change the future in "Looper."

Now it's Wolverine's turn. In "X-Men: Days of Future Past," the mutant with anger issues, tight-fitting jeans and talons that could rip your heart out (played by Hugh Jackman, in fine form), must go back in time to prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from committing a game-changing mistake.

Fresh off 2011's terrific Cuban missile-crisis-themed "X-Men: First Class," Marvel's mutant characters are back in action for their biggest, most daring adventure yet. This time, the younger and older versions of these complex characters wrangle with what fear-mongering scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage of "Game of Thrones") has whipped up in 1973 -- robots called Sentinels that pose a grave threat to humans and mutants alike.

The movie opens in 2023 with a gripping, doom-and-gloom mood reminiscent of the first "Terminator." Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Storm (Halle Berry) are holed up with other mutants -- some new to the film franchise -- as the seemingly unstoppable Sentinels advance. It's up to Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to use her special abilities to whisk Wolverine's consciousness back to the '70s so he can alter the future.

Already that's a lot of characters and a star-studded cast, so bear with me here, because there are more big names to come. When Wolverine returns to '70s America, he hustles over to explain what's going down with younger versions of Xavier (James McAvoy, a standout) who's lost his will and ability to read minds, and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who's imprisoned in the Pentagon. When he's not hanging out with Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Wolverine's most entertaining adventures come when he's with Quicksilver (Evan Peters, who steals every scene he's in), a lightning-fast teen with twitchy fingers and a Red Bull jumpiness.

This set-up should sound familiar to "X-Men" comic book fans, since the film draws inspiration from the story arc created by comic writer Chris Claremont, who has a cameo. And if your eyes glazed over at that last sentence and plot synopsis, stay with me. Even those suffering from superhero burnout after the release of "Captain America: Winter Soldier" (fantastic) and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (feeble) should give this witty thrill ride the benefit of the doubt.

Largely responsible for turning the fifth "X-Men" film (not counting those two Wolverine spinoffs) into a comic-book movie with vision and smarts is filmmaker Bryan Singer, who directed 2000's "X-Men" and 2003's "X2." Once again in the director's chair, Singer delivers not only numerous "wow" moments like an ingenious slow-mo sequence in a kitchen that involves bullets and Quicksilver, but makes the whole massive production not only cerebral and symbolic, but so much fun to watch. (Be sure to stay through the end credits for more).

Remarkably, all parts do come together, from the massive slate of characters that never gets unwieldy to the ambitious production design and special effects. The material Singer's working with was adapted with high spirits by screenwriter Simon Kinberg with story input from Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman.

Singer and Kinberg take thorough advantage of the time period, bringing up Vietnam and going further back to revisits JFK's assassination (heck, even Richard Nixon, played by Mark Camacho, pops up). They also expand on "X-Men's" themes on the wrongness of racism, homophobia, intolerance and war.

And therein lies what separates "X-Men: Days of Future Past" from the tag-the-bases likes of "Spider-Man 2." "Days of Future Past" toys with history, but stays true to its outsider roots, expressing them with conviction and a sense of narrative sure-footedness. Even better, it's timeless fun, a summer movie that engages and entertains us in equal measures.

'X-Men: Days of Future Past'

* * * ½

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language)
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Evan Peters
Director: Bryan Singer
Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes