There's a scene during the first half of Bryan Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse that is so emotionally resonant, so well-put-together and so quiet that you might briefly forget you're watching a superhero film. It involves a raid by some Polish officers in the remote forest where Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender) -- the powerful mutant antihero and sometimes villain of this series -- has been living incognito with his wife and young daughter. Magneto can control metal, so the men wear no badges and carry no guns. They come under cover of night, carrying bows and arrows, and the resulting, subdued face-off -- full of silent glances, hesitant actions and ultimately tragic consequences — serves as a reminder that the makers of comic-book blockbusters don't have to abandon subtlety, character, performance and film grammar completely. After the Everything's-a-Metaphor! sledgehammering of Batman v. Superman and the jokey flab of Captain America: Civil War, Singer's film feels like something somewhat rare: an actual superhero movie.
The particular genius of the X-Men films has always been the way they followed their characters' journeys of self-acceptance. But here, these young characters, in part because they've spent childhoods living in shame and in part because they're still often unable to control their abilities, are sometimes torn over whether to use their powers. That lends even the most basic action sequence surprising levels of both suspense and (gasp) humanity, so much so that even the film's dated-looking and occasionally tacky special effects aren't particularly distracting. Apocalypse zips along, combining the highs and lows of a real comic book -- all the feeling, color and wonder, even some of the dopiness -- with gloriously cinematic storytelling.