“No skyscrapers blow up, no cities are leveled, and while the White House and a football stadium suffer some serious structural damage, the wholesale destruction of human civilization is kept to a refreshing minimum in X-Men: Days of Future Past,” writes Variety’s Justin Chang. “[This is] just one of several respects in which this strikingly ambitious yet intimately scaled entertainment distinguishes itself from so much of its comicbook-movie kind.

“Back at the helm of the Fox/Marvel franchise he successfully launched 14 years ago, director Bryan Singer stages a stealth reboot by introducing a playful time-travel element to the ongoing saga, bringing two generations of mutantkind together in a story that toggles cleverly (if not always 100% coherently) between the political tumult of 1973 and a not-so-distant dystopian future.

“Singer’s scandalous recent headlines are unlikely to impact the commercial fortunes of this keenly anticipated tentpole attraction, whose B.O. haul stands to rival and perhaps exceed that of the series’ top earner to date, X-Men: The Last Stand.

“Its $459 million worldwide gross notwithstanding, that 2006 smash marked the beginning of a severe lapse in quality for the franchise, as Singer, having directed the excellent first two pictures, left the third one in the singularly ill-suited hands of Brett Ratner. (The Last Stand was followed, but not much improved upon, by Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009.) Fortunately, the overall series has been on the creative upswing in recent years, buoyed by Matthew Vaughn’s terrific prequel X-Men: First Class (2011) and James Mangold’s unexpectedly fine The Wolverine (2013).

“And given that Singer’s own career hasn’t exactly flourished in the meantime with Superman Returns, Valkyrie and last year’s bomb Jack the Giant Slayer, it’s not especially surprising to see him make his long-overdue return to blockbuster form here: Not since 2003’s X2: X-Men United has this filmmaker tapped so effortlessly into his talent for comicbook gravitas, his ability to mine emotional resonance, pop poetry and (crucially) sly humor from material that could otherwise have veered into strained seriousness or high camp.”