Starring: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender
Directed by: Simon Kinberg (debut)
Written by: Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Apocalypse”)
Here we are at the presumptive end of Fox’s X-Men series, and it all seems to be happening with a relative whimper. What started 19 years ago as part of the Big Bang of modern superhero movies draws to a close with a shrug in “Dark Phoenix,” the latest (and final?) film in the longest-running comic-book movie franchise ever—so far, anyway.
While all eight of the X-movies proper maintain a loose continuity with their immediate neighbors, the series has always been ready to throw it out the window at a moment’s notice. Which means to say, if the gist of “Dark Phoenix” seems a little familiar, it’s because this same storyline—based on a classic comic book arc—was sort of done back in 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand.”
Following the world-shattering events of the franchise low point “X-Men: Apocalypse,” things seem … sort of normal? It’s 1992 and the newly-launched Space Shuttle Endeavour has suffered some sort of problem on its maiden voyage by way of a mysterious solar flare. It’s up to Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his X-Men to save the day. Led by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, who proves in this film to be completely over playing the blue-faced mutant) and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), the team flies into space to save the astronauts. In the process, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) gets caught in the explosion and the mysterious solar flare enters her body, sending her power off the charts.
Meanwhile, some aliens that are also after the power in the flare land on earth and mimic the humans they kill. One takes the shape of a woman (Jessica Chastain) and seeks out Jean, who has now discovered Charles has lied to her about her past, sending her over the edge.
In the age of world domination by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, these first-cousin-once-removed X-movies come across as downright cheapo and quaint. I mean, they’re full of physical stunts and JLaw is just wearing blue makeup and an unconvincing wig to play a shapeshifter, and Hoult has fake blue fur glued to his face. The goddamn Black Panther’s suit is CGI, even though there’s a real one on set! All in all, “Dark Phoenix” is entirely perfunctory, with confusing fight choreography, confounding character arcs, and completely unearned sentimentality. And even still, there are at least two worse X-Men adjacent movies. Now that Fox has been absorbed into Disney, all signs point to this being the wrap on a series that laid the groundwork for where the genre is today and created a bonafide movie star in Hugh Jackman. Thanks for your service, X-Men. We’ll see you in MCU phase 5, probably.