Movie review: X-Men give old formula X factor

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) with a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) in X-Men: Days Of Future Past. -- PHOTO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) with a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) in X-Men: Days Of Future Past. -- PHOTO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Magic of the ensemble dynamics and spectacular action lift story beyond usual storyline

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X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (PG13)

133 minutes/Opens tomorrow/****

The story: Several years from now, the United States government is well on its way to wiping out all mutants and anyone who might pass on the mutant gene. In a last-ditch attempt at saving the world, Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has his mind sent back in time by Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lensherr (Ian McKellen). Waking up in the early 1970s, Logan must stop Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from committing an act which will destroy the mutant race.

The other title for this work could be The Wolverine Movie We Wished We Had Instead Of The One We Were Given. Because this is Jackman's film. As Logan, he has never been more interesting or charismatic than in this.

The story is peopled by characters and situations which bring out his raging animal, not inner simpering pet, as the audience was given in last year's The Wolverine.

Sent back in time to inhabit his 1973 body, Logan's mission to change the future by turning enemies into friends united against a common foe is a formula as old as the summer science-fiction blockbuster.

Time travel as a plot device is treated in a respectful, non-throwaway manner, and actions and their reverberations in the future are not locked in a linear, predictable lockstep.

More importantly, there is only a small serving of the "the future is what we make of it" speechifying which plagues time-travel plots.

But mostly, it is the magic of the ensemble dynamics which lifts the story beyond its formula roots. While this is technically the fifth X-Men team movie, it is in all but name a direct sequel to the reboot which was X-Men: First Class (2011).

Young Xavier (James McAvoy) and Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) make a return with little of their brooding intensity lost in the intervening years. The angst around the duo is offset nicely by the emotional notes found in the rest of the team.

What is even better is the absence of the youth-in-peril subplot weighing down the First Class story - let's face it, some of those young mutants are annoying and their cannon-fodder status was telegraphed early on.

The action setpieces here are spectacular, packed with ingenious displays of mutant teamwork and never overstay their welcome.

Director Bryan Singer, he of the first two X-Men films (2000, 2003) and the Oscar-winning The Usual Suspects (1995), has been on a downward streak in recent years, putting out work which ranged from the so-so (Superman Returns, 2006; Valkyrie, 2008) to the mediocre (Jack The Giant Slayer, 2013).

With this project, he comes roaring back.

johnlui@sph.com.sg