Film Review: X Men: Dark Phoenix

The tenth in this run of Marvel X-Men movies is also one of the least impressive, probably due to a troubled production and extensive reshoots that changed and confused everything, leaving it all feeling significantly less than super.

Rumour has it that writer, director and co-producer Simon Kinberg (filling in for now-controversial X-Men main-man Bryan Singer) had to revamp the original film’s ending, due to its strong resemblance to another superhero movie, but which one is a matter of debate and, anyway, this can’t help but look pale and drab hot on the heels of Avengers: Endgame.

And yes, due to legal and studio quirks the X-Men and the Avengers can’t appear together, so please stop asking. Don’t you think, after all, that if they could however many of the surviving Xes would have helped battle Thanos?

An ‘Origins’ story about the unpredictable Jean Grey, this was also a good excuse to use English player Sophie Turner (yet another in a long line of Game Of Thrones stars) as Jean after she didn’t have much to do in X-Men: Apocalypse. Turner is the young version but, of course, she doesn’t look at all like the older Jean (memorably played in the earlier movies by Famke Janssen), and yet Turner is okay here and tries to cut through the chaos.

Somewhere in the later 1970s (Glen Campbell’s scene-setting By The Time I Get To Phoenix is on the car radio for a laugh) we meet the 8 year old Jean (Summer Fontana), whose dangerous psychic abilities lead to tragedy. She’s then basically adopted by the younger Dr. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy with hair), and she becomes one of the X-Men, as she learns how to control her powers. Just.

In 1992, when Xavier no longer has hair, an American space shuttle gets into trouble and a bunch of the X-Men (a term rightly questioned now) are sent up to assist: Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence); Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult); Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp); Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters, who vanishes from the plot surely due to his commitment to TV’s American Horror Story); Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Adelaide’s Kodi Smit-McPhee); Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan); and Turner’s Jean. Somehow Jean gets a blast of what’s supposed to be a solar flare but is obviously something alien, and suddenly her powers become bigger and scarier (or as big and scary as this jumbled movie will allow).

Her anger leads to more tragedy and she escapes, leading to a tide of hatred against the X-Men and her pursuit by the extraterrestrially-possessed Vuk, who’s played by no less than Jessica Chastain with blonde hair and a haughty look. Evidently Vuk wants to use the power Jean now has against humanity, and Jean does consider turning bad, which leads to a visit to the not-so-nice X-Men now living in a woodland shantytown and headed, of course, by sneering Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender, kept offscreen for too long).

There’s something appealing about the Jean Grey character, even though she’s really only a more extreme form of Xavier and Storm and many of her apparently awesome abilities remain a little vague here. In fact, even though she’s meant to be around 20, her arc resembles that of a teenager: full of angst and rage, unable to deal with crazy changes to her body, and turning against her ‘parent(s)’.

And yet this angle is somewhat lost in favour of standard FX-laden fights and a final-act smash-‘em-up in a moving train (obviously the most reshot and played-with sequence). But, far more irksomely, the whole metaphorical purpose of the X-Men is muted: whereas they were intended by creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to symbolise the feared and misunderstood in society, now they’re just bland old superheroes.

X Men: Dark Phoenix (M) is in cinemas from June 6

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