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X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX gets 4.5/10 Bye bye birdie


Directed by Simon Kinberg

Starring James McAvoy, Sophie Turner, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender

4.5/10

The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the most significant and iconic story-lines of the X-Men comics. A re-telling of Jean Grey’s fall from grace as she’s tempted by the power offered to her by an unknowable cosmic entity has been a part of every X-Men series to have been developed either for TV or film and echoed throughout the comics for decades. X-Men: Dark Phoenix marks the second bite of the cherry for the film franchise, with the convoluted film continuity set up by X-Men: Days of Future Past jettisoning some of the previous film lore. It also marks director Simon Kinberg’s second chance at this story, after penning X-Men: Last Stand, what is considered by fans to be one of the worst X-Men films of the saga. So with this marking what is extensively the last major X-Men film from Fox (due to the recent purchase by Disney), does this franchise go out in a blaze of glory?

The year is 1992, and mutants are slowly being accepted into society due to the superheroic work of the X-Men team, and their mentor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). All of this is endangered when a space mission to rescue a stricken space shuttle leaves one of their numbers, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), bombarded by a strange solar flare. Instead of dying, Grey rises like a phoenix, unlocking a vast reservoir of power from her melding with the strange cosmic entity, but also tapping into anger and resentment over a childhood incident previously obscured from her memory. As Jean gives into rage, some of the X-Men struggle to save her, while some mutants seek to end the threat she represents to the world, and a group of aliens (Jessica Chastain) struggle to access the power of the Phoenix to their own ends.

After an exceptional opening action sequence set in space, X-Men: Dark Phoenix quickly squanders its second chance to tell this iconic story well. Sure it’s better than the previous attempt of X-Men: Last Stand, but that is setting the bar so low as to be actually subterranean. In fairness, Kinberg didn’t have much of a chance to tell the complex tale of power corrupting a beloved character, and her struggling to find redemption, in just one film. It’s truly something that needs to be given room to mature over a series of films, similar to Disney’s Marvel approach. However, Dark Phoenix doesn’t do the best with what it has to offer, by not developing the character arcs and motivations, while giving us a few unoriginal action sequences to try and gloss over the drama.

Part of the issue is also the actors. Turner doesn’t have either the nuance or range of emotions to be able to convey Jean Grey’s rage in a complex manner. And the more inveterate actors (McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence) appear as if they’re contractually obliged to be in the film, rather than genuinely putting in their best performances. At the end of the day, it all seems rather perfunctory.

As such the franchise that initially revitalised the modern superhero cinema, might not go out exactly with a whimper, but certainly with a very average piece of film making.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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