Dark Phoenix is the final instalment in the X-Men franchise. But is it a worthy swan song or an ugly duckling?
One of the most powerful mutants among the X-Men, Jean Grey’s story has been told before. She went full Phoenix in the much maligned X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), while the younger Jean (Sophie Turner) demonstrated her destructive powers with the defeat of Apocalypse in the 2016 film (which also established her connection with Wolverine and Scott/Cyclops).
Now she’s front and centre for a Phoenix origin story of sorts, which begins with Jean’s powers erupting as a child, resulting in an accident that leaves her an orphan and in the care of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy).
Fast forward to 1992, where an orbital rescue mission sees Jean absorb a cosmic energy source that ultimately amplifies her abilities. Her new powers attract the attention of a shape-shifting alien (played with icy relish by Jessica Chastain), and also result in a tragedy that turns Jean into a pariah and a destructive force that not even Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and the combined might of the X-Men can stop.
The theme is absolute power corrupts absolutely. Charles has a Luke Skywalker moment in recognising there’s good inside Jean, but can his powers of persuasion bring her back from the dark side?
There’s no shortage of spectacle, but in many ways Dark Phoenix feels like a smaller film than its predecessors and most closely resembles the original X-Men (2000).
Primarily concerned with the different shades of Grey, the supporting players are inevitably short changed – especially Jessica Chastain’s villain, whose motivation is vague at best. And one surprise moment will raise questions over the timeline, which was pretty much reset at the end of Days of Future Past to give the writers carte blanche.
In a perfect world, the culmination of this two-decade franchise would have united the First Class and original casts for an epic battle against an unstoppable foe (the Shadow King, perhaps?), but two out of three ain’t bad.
Dark Phoenix is better than The Last Stand and Apocalypse, even if it’s not quite the endgame the X-Men truly deserved.
Afterthought: Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler needs a spin-off film!
In cinemas: June 6, 2019
Starring: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain
Directed by: Simon Kinberg