Having helped kickstart the franchise back in 2000, 'X-Men' and 'X2' director Bryan Singer returned to the helm for the latest installment, 'X-Men: Days Of Future Past'. Following a relatively bumpy ride in recent years for X-Men films, with a notable low of 2009's 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine', Singer was presented with the unenviable task of mixing the characters from his vision of the series and the more recent reboots, namely 'X-Men: First Class' and 'The Wolverine'.
Based on the popular comic book storyline, 'Days Of Future Past' takes us to 2023 where mutants are being hunted to extinction by robotic assassins called Sentinels, created by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). In a desperate bid to avert their destruction, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back to 1973 to prevent the murder of Trask by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) - the catalyst for the Sentinel programme being pushed ahead, which has similarly disastrous implications for humanity.
It's not entirely clear why Wolverine is tasked with tracking down Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart in future timeline/James McAvoy in past) and Magneto (Ian McKellan/Michael Fassbender) instead of simply pursuing Mystique but he follows his mission in typically stubborn style. Presented with a jaded Xavier, and an imprisoned Magneto, Wolverine must first help fix broken relationships before he can save his future brethren.
To aid them in their quest, the mutants in the past timeline encounter a hitherto unseen (in the film series) character, Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Considering the relative lack of humour in 'Days Of Future Past', perhaps understandably underlying the peril of the situation, the speedy Quicksilver provides much of the joy of the film. In fact, one slo-mo shoot-out scene is easily a stand-out in the entire franchise - arguably even the best of them of all. Aaron Taylor-Johnson will have a tough time following this performance as the Marvel version of the character in 2015's 'The Avengers: Age Of Ultron'.
Screenwriter Simon Kinberg throws in the odd witty comment along the way, particularly in reference to Quicksilver's father (Magneto), but he fails to deliver the emotional heft seen in the most impressive X-Men films - 'X2' and 'First Class'. Indeed, the central relationship of Magneto and Xavier is at its weakest here, relying on past glories rather than pushing the nuances of their adversarial partnership. Consequently, we feel as if we're going through the motions to an inevitable conclusion, as opposed to feeling any significant tension.
While Bryan Singer's grasp on the drama and tension may not be at its finest in 'Days Of Future Past' - of course, 'The Usual Suspects' will be near-impossible to beat in those regards - he does offer a few impressive set-pieces. As well as the aforementioned Quicksilver scene, the future battles between mutants and Sentinels offer glimpses of exciting new mutants, most notably the teleporting Blink (Bingbing Fan) - who is surely a must for any future film.
The film's finale confuses the time travel aspect of the storyline, and effectively begins a new horizon for the series. Whether this is a wise move remains to be seen, but my gut feeling suggests not - considering the ever-increasing number of mutants, faced with ever-decreasing screen-time. We'll find out in 'X-Men: Apocalypse', scheduled for 2016, and a hint to the film's post-credits scene. In the meantime, we'll unfortunately have to assess 'Days Of Future Past' as second class.
'X-Men: Days Of Future Past' is out now in UK cinemas through 20th Century Fox.