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Film review: ‘Dark Phoenix’ puts the X-Men series out its misguided misery ★★☆☆☆

Fox's final X-Men film fails to reach a franchise high point by rebotching the Phoenix saga.

Once deservedly heralded as the catalyst for comic book’s big screen jump, in a series that smartly weaved social realism and stage thespians between claw wielding action, the X-Men franchise’s final Fox film limps to a thoroughly average conclusion.

Director Simon Kinberg reattempts to adapt the infamous Dark Phoenix saga, which sees the telepathic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) possessed by an otherworldly force causing the X-man to become an unstable, nuclear-level threat.

You don’t need mutant abilities to sense this story’s familiarity as Kinberg previously scripted 2006s X-Men: The Last Stand; a convoluted soup of beloved X-comic arcs which caused the series to reboot with First Class.

That incredible second generation cast return, with James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier accepted, alongside his mutant brethren, by the world order which calls upon the team to rescue a haywire space mission.

Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique leads Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Quicksliver (Evan Peters) and Jean Grey on the successful operation which, however, sees Jean return with an imbedded extra-terrestrial power in the Phoenix force.

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Beast, Professor X, Cyclops and Storm ready for battle. Credit: Inverse

The Oscar-nominated Jessica Chastain is shamefully stripped of charisma as ‘unnamed alien’ pursuing that same power, eventually pushing Jean – triggered by a traumatic revelation from her past – to turn on her beloved X-family with fatal consequences.

A more entertaining entry than the woefully dull Apocalypse and certainly a tighter, livelier retelling of The Last Stand, Dark Phoenix is ultimately undone by its original outing. The Bryan Singer directed opener set a template for bland uniforms and side-lined characters, in favour of the Professor X-Magneto (and formerly Wolverine) dynamic.

Unfortunately, the X-Men films have rode that well-worn conflict and colour palette since, with the likes of Cyclops, Storm and Nightcrawler relegated to the occasional zap of power with any semblance of character development telepathically wiped from screen. Evan Peters, who has been a welcome comedic addition since his scene-stealing debut in Days of Future Past, is MIA for the entity of the second and third acts, presumably to film a much better Ryan Murphy series.

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Sophie Turner as Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix. Credit: Star2.com

Even Michael Fassbender’s Magneto is largely absent and when he does appear, Fassbender is visibly tired of this role.

As a first-time filmmaker, with countless scripts (some good, most bad) to his name, Kinberg’s muted direction is stripped of visual flare, instead it serves to advance the fast-paced plot. Yet, an extended fight sequence on a train is superbly choreographed to give each mutant a fleeting money-shot moment.

Despite spending a healthy majority of the run time in Jean Grey’s company and Sophie Turner’s commanding, if somewhat distant, performance, it’s hard to care for a character’s fate when the films haven’t earned the audience’s emotion. An earlier death of a franchise mainstay elicits a similar response.

Freed from Fox’s cautious grasp, the X-Men return to their birthplace under Marvel Studios’ direction, which makes the future of movie mutantkind hopeful. It remains a shame then that this classic comic story has been maligned twice. Third times a charm?

 

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