The past we’ll get to. For now behold the future, a place you will want to drive through with your windows rolled up. Indefinite years ahead, amid sunless Chinese mountains, the last of the world is being snuffed out. Metal brutes rampage to a Wagnerian din. A migraine seems likely. “Can we evolve fast enough to change our fate?” asks the voiceover. All who see this film, piñata-stuffed with special effects, will certainly hope so.
Fourteen years after director Bryan Singer made the first X-Men with its gaggle of super-powered mutants, series fixtures Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are part-timers. All hope rests with Wolverine (the eternally game Hugh Jackman). He must travel back in time, the old boys tell him, to the stoned wilds of 1973. Not his body. Only his “consciousness”. “Wow,” he remarks.
Wow again at the unlikely places a blockbuster will go for thrills after six previous instalments. Despite the early murk, things turn jaunty in ’73, where an assassination must be thwarted. Can that magnified coil of DNA actually be the blobules of a lime green lava lamp? Naturally. Now make room for the polyester and wah-wah. In a film at one with its own absurdity, near-camp delirium is the strongest suit. After the jokes about waterbeds, why not visit the Parisian nightclub filled with lecherous high-ranking Viet Cong? The mood just gets weirder once Nixon enters the narrative, sweatily familiar but now a generic hapless action movie President. Around this point, you may find your own mutant powers of not squinting aghast at the screen starting to fail.
Of course, for the producers, history is not the issue. The point is younger blood. McKellen and Stewart’s ’70s selves are played by Michael Fassbender (lifting McKellen’s Burnley vowels) and James McAvoy (his Professor Xavier a square even when high). Peter Dinklage is watchably villainous, star buy Jennifer Lawrence a scenic let-down. In fact, the whole thing is stolen early by another newcomer, Evan Peters, as a proto-hacker whose smoke-grey hair and punkish wit suggest Julian Assange’s self image. The script is such a sprawl he promptly vanishes, but he does leave a vapour trail before we’re sent, grumbling, back to the future.