Trapped in a dystopian future where marauding, shape-shifting robots have turned New York's Central Park into a concentration camp, Hugh Jackman's Wolverine has no choice in "X-Men: Days of Future Past" but to travel back in time to alter history.
The film, which opens in US theaters on Friday, is the seventh based on the Marvel Comics series that has grossed more than $2.3 billion at the global box office.
A sequel to both 2006's "X Men: The Last Stand" and 2011's "X-Men: First Class," the film begins in a future where Sentinel robots are trying to destroy mutants, and follows Wolverine as he travels back to the 1970s, when he does not have the use of his silver-colored claws.
"The X-Men movies always have a theme of disenfranchisement or minorities or discrimination," said Jackman, 45, the best actor Oscar nominee for the musical "Les Miserables" whose action film career took off with X-Men.
"We're actually tackling real human issues in addition to having people fly and have lasers come out of their eyes," Jackman told Reuters, noting that the characters' powers come from emotional traumas they have faced.
The film, expected to be one of the biggest at the box office this year, has had a dose of unwelcome publicity after two men accused director Bryan Singer of sexually abusing them as teenagers, charges he denies.
As a result, Singer has not participated in the film's global rollout, leaving promotion to his cast of acclaimed actors with an increasingly international profile.
Academy Award winner Halle Berry ("Monster Ball") returns as weather-controlling Storm. Jennifer Lawrence, who picked up an Academy Award for "Silver Linings Playbook," is the blue, shape-shifting Mystique and Ellen Page ("Juno") plays Kitty Pryde, who can run through solid objects.
Much of the plot revolves around Mystique's actions and Wolverine's attempts to thwart them.
Global culture, existential roots
"The film is about struggle and being able to risk everything," said British actor Patrick Stewart, 73, back as Professor X in the film, whose younger self is played by Scottish actor James McAvoy, who starred in 2008's "Wanted."
Two-time Oscar nominee Ian McKellen ("Gods and Monsters") returns as the metal-controlling mutant Magneto, with Michael Fassbender, who won an Oscar nod as the slave owner in "12 Years a Slave," playing Magneto in the past.
Peter Dinklage is Bolivar Trask, a quietly conniving industrialist bent on destroying the superhero mutants with his Sentinel robots.
"I wanted Trask to be smooth, because I don't trust that in people," said Dinklage, best known for HBO's "Game of Thrones." "I never know where they're coming from."
As Wolverine and the other mutants attempt to stop Trask they disrupt key historical events, including the 1973 Paris Peace Accords and the Watergate scandal, during which a portly President Nixon, played by Canadian-born actor Mark Camacho, considers buying a fleet of Sentinel robots.
Fassbender's young Magneto even picks up the RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. and drops it around the White House as Trask and Nixon negotiate a deal.
While the plot may be complex, it helps reset the storyline after "X-Men: The Last Stand," in which Professor X's body is destroyed and Magneto loses most of his mutant powers. The film also returns the series to its existential roots, exploring how several characters find redemption.
New additions to the cast include Chinese actress Fan Bingbing as the teleporting mutant Blink, and Omar Sy in the role of energy-absorbing Bishop.
"We want our movies to reflect the world," said Lauren Shuler Donner, who has produced all of the "X-Men" films. "Years ago they sort of reflected the American culture, but it's no longer about the American culture. It's about the global culture."