X-Men: Days Of Future Past
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman ,
131 mins; Class 12 ; KRS

It is almost unheard of for the fifth entry in a successful franchise (seventh, if you count the two solo Wolverine outings) to be heralded as possibly the series’ best.

But Marvel’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, can confidently make that claim, while throwing down the gauntlet to any challengers for the Summer 2014 blockbuster crown.

With a simple, yet tight, storyline at the base of a flowing and coherent narrative; a cast at the top of its collective game; director Bryan Singer returning to the franchise he kicked off so successfully back in 2000; a series of action set-pieces that are awe-inspiring yet keep you firmly in the plot – even when they are at their most over the top; just the right amount of droll humour and a little poignancy thrown in, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a textbook example of what the superhero film should be all about.

This latest in the series of the X-Men’s adventures hits the ground running (and flying and hurtling) with a solid bit of exposition that includes a thundering action sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the film with respect to story, character and action.

“The future is a dark and desolate world,” intones Professor Xavier (in his older incarnation in the guise of Patrick Stewart). It is dark and desolate indeed, a few years in the future as 2023 bears witness to worldwide death and carnage brought about by the Sentinels, colossal robots originally created to rid the world of mutants but that inevitably, turned against humankind.

It was an act carried out by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in the 1970s that set off the events culminating in this massacre. The surviving mutants are holed-up in China led by Xavier and Magneto (Ian McKellan), as the world crumbles around them.

Xavier posits that the only way to fix the future is to alter the past, and he sends Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) – his consciousness, to be precise – back, with the help of Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), to meet up with Xavier’s younger self (played by James McAvoy) and stop Mystique.

And so Wolverine travels back in time for an adventure that is bigger, badder and better than what has gone before. The x-factor here is that events in the future blend seamlessly with those in the past, as the action cuts from the 1970s,as America was recovering from the Vietnam debacle, to the bleak dystopian future with no interruption to the story flow.

The film culminates in not one, but two, action-packed finales which play out concurrently. Both will have you at the edge of your seat, before a welcome, poignant denouement that restores some balance to the characters after their respective ordeals.

A textbook example of what the superhero film should be all about

There was a concern that the extensive A-list dramatis personae, combining the characters of the original trilogy with their younger counterparts from X-Men: First Class would crowd the story.

But the excellent script by Simon Kinberg, and the assured direction by Singer, ensure that each character does their job, and never feels extraneous.

Granted, blink and you’ll miss a couple of them (Rogue, I’m looking at you… now I’ve lost you) but their presence is important to unfolding events, and none of them feel like cameos for their own sake.

I do wish we had more time with Evan Peter’s Quicksilver, whose gift is to move at super-speed, and who commands one of the best scenes as he turns an ambush by Pentagon security men into his own personal life-size model playground; and with Peter Dinklage who takes on the role of the scientist behind the Sentinel experiment.

Notwithstanding the brief screen time allotted to some members of the cast, however, kudos to Singer and Kinberg for so successfully allowing the characters genuine depth and a recognisable moral centre aided and abetted by the x-cellent ensemble.

The old cast mutate into their roles with consummate ease. Stewart and McKellan provide the gravitas as the older, wiser comrades-in-arms, at peace after the ferocious enmity between them that characterised their relationship for so long. Halle Berry continues to whip up a Storm. Jackman just is Wolverine, his dourness and inner pain offset by some much-needed droll humour.

The new cast, in the meantime, once more create credible younger versions. McAvoy represents Xavier’s period of anger and sense of futility, the polar opposite of who he grows up to become (a powerful scene between them is another highlight). He and Michael Fassbender effortlessly set up the love-hate relationship between the two, the latter portraying Magneto’s younger, rebellious self with simmering intensity, his motives a mystery throughout.

Jennifer Lawrence’s shape-shifting, scene-stealing Mystique is physically and emotionally blue, as she is torn between right and wrong, while Nicholas Hoult provides some desperately-needed muscle as Beast.

Days of Future Past has the potential of reaching the box office proportions of Marvel’s other ridiculously successful franchise, The Avengers (2012). And so confident is the studio in its success that production is already underway for X-Men: Apocalypse due to be released in 2016, once more helmed by Bryan Singer. Stick around until the end credits, for a quick taster.