It was never going to be easy to top Matthew Vaughn’s crackling 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class, which rejuvenated the flailing X-Men movie series with a clever 60s-set origin story. But Bryan Singer, returning to the Marvel mutant franchise that he kick-started, skillfully meshes its two disparate story strands, crafting an ambitious time-spanning tale that brings together key players from the original X-Men trilogy and their younger counterparts from First Class.
 
To be fair, anyone who isn’t a hardcore fan will do well to revisit the earlier films – or at least browse Wikipedia for a quick recap of what has already transpired – before settling in to watch X-Men: Days of Future Past. The new film finds a few surviving X-Men in a bleak, brutal future where mutants and their supporters are hunted down and killed by The Sentinels, an army of giant robots. Confronted with the threat of extinction, Patrick Stewart’s Professor X and Ian McKellen’s Magneto make a last ditch bid for survival by sending Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to the 70s to seek help from their younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectively) in order to alter a series of events that could change the future. Confused? Well, don’t be; it’s a lot less complicated than it sounds.
 
Singer, who knows how to stage impressive action sequences without ever skimping on plot or character development, gives us some thrilling set pieces, including the film’s opening Sentinel-attack sequence. There’s an element of genuine peril as the X-Men struggle to use their combined strengths to stop these formidable foes from crushing them.
 
But it’s not all action and explosions here. There are some unexpected moments of humor as Wolverine traverses through the past, the only one aware that so much is about to change. Days of Future Past is as much about the rocky relationship between McAvoy and Fassbender’s characters, who continue to clash over their differing ideologies on the coexistence of mutants and humans in the world. If Fassbender got the juicier part in First Class, then McAvoy is front and center this time as the drunken, self-pitying Charles Xavier. It’s a moving performance, and in one poignant bit he’s visited by Stewart’s older version of the same character.
 
Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, is key to the success of the mutants’ mission, and nicely conveys a deep inner conflict. But it’s Evan Peters, in a small cameo as the teenaged Quicksilver, who steals the film’s best scene – a slow-motion prison bust that’ll have you cheering in your seat. As Bolivar Trask, inventor of the killer robots, Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage, however, doesn’t strike the fear and intensity you expect from the talented actor. And while Hugh Jackman certainly gets ample screen time, he allows the younger cast to do most of the heavy lifting here. If there’s a complaint, it’s that so many beloved characters show up but have little to do, including Halle Berry’s Storm and others from the original trilogy.
 
In the end, Singer succeeds in infusing a kind of popcorn blockbuster quality to a drama rich in emotion. Blessed with a solid cast, he gives us characters we actually care for. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for X-Men: Days of Future Past.

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