X-Men: Dark Phoenix – Film Review

After the shambles of 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, I was pretty much done with the franchise and not at all excited for Dark Phoenix. Despite this, I tried to go in with an open mind and it’s actually quite good. It has a lot of problems, but I was entertained for the most part.

Following on from her introduction in Apocalypse, Sophie Turner stars as Jean Grey, a mutant with powerful telepathic and telekinetic abilities. During a mission in space in 1992, she absorbs this mysterious cosmic force which amplifies her powers and makes her lose control of them and become the Dark Phoenix. This leaves the X-Men team divided about how to handle her – with Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Jean’s boyfriend Scott/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) wanting to save her and Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) believing it’s best for everybody if they kill her. Meanwhile, Jean is approached by an alien lifeform Vuk (Jessica Chastain) who wants to use that power to resurrect her dwindling race.

The Dark Phoenix storyline has been done before in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, albeit with Famke Janssen in the role, but that happened such a long time ago that my memory of it is pretty hazy and this has enough differences to make it feel fresh. The origins of Jean’s story and even her main arc were done very well but I felt let down by the underwhelming ending. It was unsatisfying, it felt rushed, had no emotional payoff and was a big mess of CGI so I didn’t really know what was going on. I have no idea if it made sense or what specifically happened.

The film works well in the first half; building story, character and conflict in an interesting and captivating way, but goes hell for leather in the latter half, when it ditches character moments for non-stop action. Some of the set pieces were entertaining to watch – the train sequence, in particular, was amazing and I want to watch it again – but I could have done with less breakneck speed action and more character building to increase the stakes for the ending. We already know that the ending was reshot to be something completely different so it would be interesting to know how much was redone and what the original end would have been. It does feel heavily edited and that too many interesting character bits have been sacrificed in favour of action so you don’t have as much to connect with.

I was also pretty annoyed when I found out that the major character death – the film’s big dramatic, emotional moment – had been spoiled in the trailers and explicitly confirmed by director Simon Kinberg himself. Thankfully, I managed to avoid these so that scene had the emotional resonance which many others will have been robbed of. That was such a silly decision and a total shame. They had nothing to gain from ruining that surprise.

I liked Turner as Grey, I thought she commanded the power and vulnerability within her very well and looked totally kickass, although I didn’t believe her romance with Sheridan. She may have the title role but Xavier has an equally important and interesting story. I was excited to see Chastain in a superhero villain role but she couldn’t really show off her talents with such a limited, thinly-written part. The D’Bari aliens are pretty forgettable stock characters and although she had a commanding and foreboding presence, she was ultimately bland and didn’t make an impact on an emotional level. It was nice to see the old favourites back, including Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), as well as the newbies like Kurt/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp), but I’m gutted Peter/Quicksilver (Evan Peters) didn’t get more to do. He’s my favourite character and the only real source of humour.

It’s an improvement on Apocalypse, but that’s not saying much. I enjoyed the majority of it, particularly the first half and the train sequence. I consider Jean Grey to be one of the most interesting X-Men characters so I’m glad she’s been given her own movie and put in the capable hands of Turner. It’s just a shame about the muddled second half and that disappointing ending. It will be intriguing to see where the franchise goes from here now that Disney (who own Marvel) has acquired Fox (who own X-Men).

In cinemas from Wednesday 5th June

(Rating: 3/5)

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