X-Men: Days of Future Past is the best Marvel Comics movie so far from someone other than Marvel Studios itself. That’s not faint praise, either. It’s a fun, well-paced, character-driven superhero movie with a bevy of great actors. In a summer laden with characters from the pages of Marvel Comics, the latest installment of X-Men may not be quite as good as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but very little is. And it’s far more enjoyable in just about every way than Amazing Spider-Man 2.

X-Men was the first of Marvel’s comic books to make the leap to become not just a movie but a movie franchise, and after three movies, two Wolverine spin-offs, and a 60s-era prequel, the series is starting to show some of the continuity-heaviness of the medium from which it was taken. But that’s not a bad thing here. In an inventive take on the superhero franchise reboot, Days of Future Past manages to be a sequel to both 2006’s The Last Stand and 2011’s First Class. The future hangs in the balance as Wolverine warns the Charles Xavier of 1973 that if he doesn’t stop his erstwhile friend Raven, a.k.a. Mystique, from assassinating the man responsible for creating the mutant-hunting Sentinel robots, humanity will declare war on mutant-kind. With not only the present but the future hanging in the balance, every action is heavy with consequence.

It’s nice to see the “modern-day” actors reprise their roles while still building up the history established in the excellent prequel X-Men: First Class. Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan both feel right back at home in their roles as Professor Xavier and Magneto, and James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender return as their younger selves. Hugh Jackman, who might as well have claws himself for all the times he’s played Wolverine, is perfect in the role as always. Ellen Page returns as Kitty Pryde, and Jennifer Lawrence reprises her First Class role as the younger (and less aggressively sexualized) Mystique. Halle Berry’s hair even looks better. And new to the series (but not longtime X-Men readers) is assassination target Bolivar Trask, played by the always-brilliant Peter Dinklage—and it’s great to see him in a role not written specifically for a little person.

The X-Men as a team have always been a family first and foremost, and that really comes through here as Charles tries to appeal to Raven’s former friendship with him to convince her to give up her plans. Most of the all-out combat is reserved for the dystopian future’s Sentinels. In the past, the battle is fought with relationships and emotions, but that doesn’t slow the movie down. Mystique is a woman on the move, and trying to stop her keeps the action going even when punching isn’t involved.

After winding down with X-Men: The Last Stand, it’s great to see the X-Men series make such an energetic comeback. Even though X-Men: Days of Future Past is a Fox-produced film, it feels like they’ve picked up on many of the things that Marvel Studios has done so well. It’s a shame the DC movies can’t seem to pick up any of that joy.