The fifth X-Men
movie feels like a fresh start for the franchise, and not just because it’s a prequel that chronicles the origin of the mutant superhero team in the JFK era. From the early introductions of the cocky but good-hearted scientist Charles Xavier (James MacAvoy) and the vengeance-driven Holocaust survivor Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), it’s clear that this is the rare comic-book movie where acting and character development trump fight scenes and explosions. The two leads are riveting---especially the, er, magnetic Fassbender---as men motivated by different reasons to assemble a group of youngsters whose genetic mutations have left them with various superpowers. In a fun historical twist, the team ends up field-testing its abilities in the Cuban Missile Crisis, as it tries to stop a bunch of rogue mutants led by Kevin Bacon from starting World War III. The extended MacAvoy-Fassbender duet, the mutant-as-hated-minority allegory and the real world context of the action make this the best X yet.