X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: SIMON KINBERG / STARRING: SOPHIE TURNER, JAMES McAVOY, MICHAEL FASSBENDER, JENNIFER LAWRENCE, NICHOLAS HOULT, TYE SHERIDAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Dark Phoenix ended up being a fitting choice for the fourth and final entry in the First Class series as, prior to its release, Marvel reclaimed the rights to the X-Men, following the historic Disney-Fox merger. Like Jean Grey’s cosmic resurrection at the beginning of this movie, a rebirth is on the way. But first, there’s the matter of wrapping up the 20-year X-Men franchise, a universe that’s produced just as many good films as bad ones. This one could have gone either way then, but sadly Dark Phoenix is more of a last gasp than a final hurrah.
To be clear, the narrative approach the movie takes is sound. Following the bloated Apocalypse and the success of Logan, you can understand why Simon Kinberg - long-time writer and producer, first-time director - decided to treat DP as a character-based drama, sidestepping the usual bombast that has often been to the series’ detriment. However, the execution just isn’t good enough to make the bold shift in tone work.
Typically, you can accuse the X-Men films of being too overstuffed and spreading themselves too thin. That’s not the case with Dark Phoenix, which overestimates how much its stripped-back storyline can accomplish. The emotional impact often misses the mark, with the changing allegiances feeling unearned and the big death spoiled in the trailers falling far short of the franchise’s most moving moments. Though at least the third act train sequence, full of mutant versus alien action, is rather fun.
The good news is Sophie Turner delivers a strong performance, doing much of the heavy lifting as Jean, nailing the blend of fear, anger and rush of adrenaline that her new powers bring. James McAvoy is also terrific, with one of the highlights of the script being its willingness to dig into the darker aspects of Professor X’s methods more than ever before. Unfortunately, Jessica Chastain is given nothing to work with as - checks IMDB - Vuk, a bland shapeshifter from beyond the stars that’ll have you crying out for Ben Mendelsohn’s Talon from Captain Marvel.
It probably isn’t fair to compare it to the MCU, and obviously variation in the superhero genre is to be fiercely encouraged, but it’s hard not to feel that Dark Phoenix should have taken more pointers from Marvel’s success with cosmic spectacle and leaned into the original comics storyline more than it did. As it is, the film simply botches the iconic saga for a second time, just in fresh ways from The Last Stand.
So while it sports a couple of great performances - everyone else just doesn’t get enough to do - and its failings and ambitions are perhaps nobler than previous entries, Dark Phoenix isn’t the soaring final flight this franchise deserved. Hopefully Marvel will pick up where Fox left off and inject a new lease of life into the brand. And from the ashes, the X-Men will rise like a… Well, you see where we’re going with this.