“Well,” deadpans Ian McKellen’s Magneto, sizing up the X-Men’s position from the rubble of a robo-wrecked future, “it’s complicated.” You can say that again, but the beauty of Bryan Singer’s mutant-verse comeback is the light work he makes of potentially heavy lifting. Faced with huge fan hopes (beloved comic source, Singer’s return), a crowded superhero market, two X-teams, temporal shenanigans and geographical jumps, Singer has refreshed the series with blasts of his original entries’ X-factors: vim, levity, clarity and a sincere, soulful grip on the emotional stakes involved.
You know you’re in sure hands as soon as Patrick Stewart intones The Themes – faith, destiny, hope - over shots of a stormy (honestly, the weather’s foul) 2023 apocalypse, where mutant-killing robo-whatsit Sentinels have set Prof X a poser: “Is the future truly set?” The test for that question is a madly ambitious tale of choice and redemption, ushered briskly across space and time as 2023 Wolverine’s consciousness is zapped into his 1973 body. His task: to fix the First Class team’s fractures and fix the future.
Problem is, James McAvoy’s Xavier has lost hope and started moping around like Bruce Wayne in a mega-sulk. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) will take some dissuading from her mission to kill Sentinel creator Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), an assassination that will inadvertently escalate Trask’s Sentinel programme. Dovetailing between Xavier/Raven’s arcs, Singer draws heart from their past ties and heft from those chunky questions of causality and ethics that time-travel tales crack open.
Repetitive exposition sometimes nulls the pacing, but, just as Wolverine’s violent way with kitchen-ware silences Xavier’s gas-bagging during one dicey situation, so the plot restarts fast. From Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) delicious prison-bust show-stopper to a wicked mutant tag-team use of the X-Jet, Singer revels in the cool shit. Yet what impresses most is how close he sticks to Mystique and Xavier, even as football stadiums are raised for a multi-level but cannily (and literally…) contained climax.
Lawrence honours increased screen-time with emotional conviction, wounded eyes speaking volumes. Indeed, old and new cast-members shine through the screen-crowd. More McKellen would have been nice but Stewart monologues magnificently, Michael Fassbender relishes ’70s Magneto’s cruel cool, Dinklage makes Trask more than a ’tache-twirling tyrant and Hugh Jackman’s sardonic Logan never gets old (and he has a 20-year-old’s bum).
The climax revels in temporal paradoxes, but it also offers simple, smart pleasures, locking some plot threads into place and opening others teasingly. As for post-credits pleasures, future X-cursions look triply exciting after this assured reclamation of distinct comic-book turf. If The Amazing Spider-Man 2 showed how superhero cinema could become stuck in a rut, Singer’s brisk, bracing old/new mash shows us the antidote. As Beast puts it, “Power’s back on.”
Verdict: With style, heart and thrills, Singer has nailed the most ambitious X-flick yet. Popcorn pizzazz combines with X2 ’s emotional sweep and something extra: a platform for the X-Men’s screen survival.