Directed by Simon Kinberg. Starring Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan.
The Plot: It’s 1992 and on an X-Men mission involving a space rescue, Jean (Sophie Turner) is attacked by an alien entity that takes her over. She evolves into a dangerous super-being, potentially more powerful than any of the X-Men. Charles (James McAvoy) is concerned about his pupil’s growing power, given that the long-buried trauma involving the death of her parents is now resurfacing. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Hank (Nicholas Hoult) and Scott (Tye Sheridan) attempt to calm Jean’s anger. Instead, Jean seeks out Eric (Michael Fassbender) who knows more about controlling his dark urges. However, Jean is tempted further into the darkness by the arrival of alien Vuk (Jessica Chastain) who has her own agenda…
The Verdict: With Disney’s recent multi-billion dollar acquisition of 20th Century Fox, the times are a changin’. Now that Disney owns both Marvel and Fox, the crossover potential for the long-running X-Men franchise could be realised. Out with the old and in with the new. Not just yet though. Fox have decided to conclude their alternate timeline X-Men quadrilogy with X-Men: Dark Phoenix. In a sense, it’s a course correction for the X-Men franchise. Simon Kinberg has been involved with the franchise as a producer and a writer. Now he turns director in an attempt to correct a mistake that was made in X-Men: The Last Stand. Jean Grey’s tragic story was relegated to a sub-plot in an already busily-plotted and poorly received film. The result is an X-Men film that gets the job done – but nothing more.
Fleshing out Jean’s story to a full-length film is a noble, restorative effort on Kinberg’s part. It’s certainly a superheroic story worth putting front and centre. That struggle between Jean’s internal guilt, anger and immense power… and whether her friends can control it, put it back in its box and save her from herself. Or at the very least, save her from the alien entity that has taken over, Jekyll And Hyde-style. Complications ensue when Chastain’s ethereal humanoid alien enters the fray.
Kinberg’s script, based on The Dark Phoenix Saga of comic books, attempts to compress such an involving story into under two hours. In some respects, Kinberg succeeds in getting across Jean’s decline as her powers grow ever more destructive. Old rivalries and even loyalties are tested among the X-Men as some decide she’s too dangerous to live, while others like the guilt-ridden Charles believe that she can be saved. That interplay between the orbiting characters is the film’s strongest point. They may not know what they’re dealing with here or even how to stop it.
Oddly enough though, it’s Jean herself who comes across as more of a cypher than a character struggling to contain the dark phoenix within. Turner mostly glowers at everyone else in a leaden ‘look what I can do now’ expression. Given that she brought so much depth and resolve to Sansa Stark, there’s little sense here of an internal struggle going on. Kinberg’s script is partially to blame, as it only hints at Jean’s troubled backstory in a few brief scenes. While it’s enough to rescue Jean’s story and give it some sort of proper purpose, it’s not enough to warrant such a middling delivery and conclusion to this storyline.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix doesn’t round out this particular series of films with a bang or a whimper. It falls somewhere inbetween, having both good and bad elements which result in a shout out to its title character. It’s fine for what it is, gets the job done and is a slight improvement on the last entry, the overblown Apocalypse. But an X-Men film should be so much more, right?