X-Men: Days Of Future Past review

Singer strikes back. It’s about time…

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“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.

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Freelance writer

Kevin Harley is a freelance journalist with bylines at Total Film, Radio Times, The List, and others, specializing in film and music coverage. He can most commonly be found writing movie reviews and previews at GamesRadar+.