This year’s already seen the release of three major superhero films and it’s hard not to get burnt out on their familiar tricks. But the release of the year’s fourth big budget superhero movie – X-Men: Apocalypse – proves that the genre still has some life in it. The X-Men franchise has always been a step above most other comic book franchises and that’s mostly because of their choice in cast and directors. This may not be the best film in the franchise (that title still belongs to 2014’s excellent X-Men: Days of Future Past) but this is still a great film filled with awesome visuals, great characters and memorable action. It’s easily the year’s best blockbuster so far and the best superhero movie to come along since its predecessor.

Thousands of years ago, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) rose to power as the world’s first mutant. He had the ability to transfer into different bodies whenever he wanted and this allowed him to absorb numerous powers from other mutants. But he was eventually buried at the base of a great pyramid and he stayed that way until 1983. When he once again awakens, he sets out to purge the world of any non-mutants by recruiting four followers that he imbues with great power: Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). As Apocalypse begins to cause mayhem and destruction around the world, it’s going to take Professor X (James McAvoy), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and a bunch of younger heroes to stop him.

It’s a fairly simple story of good versus evil and a nice change of pace from the complex themes of other entries in the franchise. A lot of the film relies on the portrayal of the villain and Apocalypse is one of the most memorable supervillains to come along in quite some time. Although he may be unrecognizable in the role, Isaac’s performance is perfectly menacing and powerful, while the design of the character is memorable and kind of frightening. The fact that they achieved this look through makeup and avoided using CGI or motion capture adds such a deal of weight to the character. He really feels like a legitimate part of the X-Men world and this focus on practical effects is what makes Apocalypse so much more intimidating than other powerful supervillains that are created using digital effects (Marvel’s Thanos comes to mind). Although his character and motivations are somewhat underdeveloped, he’s still a villain that commands the screen.

Praise then must go to director Bryan Singer, who continues to prove that his entries are easily the best in this franchise. It’s actually pretty crazy that he’s able to balance so many different characters, all of whom are given their moments to shine. The story and structure is admittedly a little all over the place, but it never feels confusing or bloated, even with a nearly two and a half hour runtime. The X-Men films simply feel more grand and cinematic than the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the majority of this is in the hands of the director. It also doesn’t hurt things that Apocalypse is a really dark film, more so than most people would be expecting. Children are killed, men get their heads lopped off by Apocalypse and, in one stunning sequence, Magneto even tears apart Auschwitz in a fit of rage. It’s safe to say that you may want to think twice before bringing your kids to this one.

Another reason why this movie might not interest children is its general lack of action. Some fanboys might be disappointed by this, but I found the focus on characters and story, rather than action and explosions, to be refreshing. But the action that is here is still very well done and much more memorable than in any other superhero film so far this year. The final extended action sequence is commendable in how all of the characters are able to work together and really feel like a team. Singer’s able to make the action easy to follow and the final thirty minutes of this film are much better than the airport fight scene in Captain America: Civil War that everyone seemed to be raving about. But the best action in the movie once again comes from Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who uses his speed to rescue an entire school from an explosion. Set to the tune of “Sweet Dream” by Eurythmics, it’s funny, visually interesting and a heck of a lot of fun. The scene may be a retread of his standout sequence in Days of Future Past, but it’s a retread that I had a blast with.

This franchise has always featured a great cast and Apocalypse is no exception. McAvoy continues to grow into the role of Professor X, delivering a performance that fits right alongside Patrick Stewart’s, while never feeling like a simple impression. Fassbender’s Magneto is put through the emotional ringer in this thing and he delivers what might be his best performance in the trilogy as a result. Lawrence once again does a fine job with the role of Mystique, but her portrayal is nowhere near as good as Rebecca Romijn’s in the original trilogy. Newcomers to the team include Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan as Cyclops and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler. Out of the newcomers, Smit-McPhee is probably the best, although there’s something to be said about Turner’s ability to portray such a complex character.

Whereas the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes superhero movies, the X-Men franchise features films that just happen to be about superheroes. They’re superior in almost every way including visuals, story, score, performances and direction. Singer has great control over the material and his direction is so strong that it will make you wish he could direct every superhero film from now into the foreseeable future. As a fan of superheroes, these last couple years had me losing faith that this genre could wow me again. But, luckily, X-Men: Apocalypse is the superhero movie we’ve been waiting for.

X-Men: Apocalypse receives 3.5/4