Dark Phoenix has a lot to do to be considered a success. The film follows in the footsteps of not only the franchise's best instalment (Logan) but also its worst (the dreadful Apocalypse), as well as coming a few weeks after the Marvel Cinematic Universe wrapped up a ten year narrative arc. Also in the mix is that this is essentially an end to the franchise as we know it, with the X-Men joining the roster of heroes at Disney. So Dark Phoenix has to undo the damage of Apocalypse, stay relevant to the current superhero trends and close out the often good, sometimes naff X-Men franchise.
And it does this by essentially acting as a do-over for (the fan-reviled) The Last Stand. We join the X-Men in the early 90s, having managed to throw off the shackles of persecution and become the heroes Charles Xavier has always wanted them to be. Yet a mission into space to save a NASA ship could prove their undoing as it unleashes a power in Jean Grey that may destroy the team and turn the world against mutants again.
By this instalment, the ensemble feel comfortable in their roles, so much so that it at times feels like they are going through the motions. Sophie Turner is compelling as Jean Grey, even though the narrative treats her more as a device than a character, whilst James McAvoy devours the scraps of dramatic material from Xavier. Jessica Chastain is lumbered with a bland, uninteresting villain role, with a clumsy attempt at creating mystery around her leaving her all a bit undefined. What Dark Phoenix really lacks is a figure that is able to transcend the heroics and show themselves as a three dimensional character. The absence of a Hugh Jackman, an Ian McKellen or a Ryan Reynolds is keenly felt. The closest the film has to this is Evan Peters' Quicksilver. But even he becomes strangely sidelined during the second half and is noticeably absent for much of proceedings.
Simon Kinberg's direction is passable if somewhat unnoticeable. Dark Phoenix has a crisp, clean look even if it lacks the personality of some of the best instalments in the X-Men franchise (
An initially strong start (with one of the franchise's best action sequences) gives way to an increasingly frustrating narrative, dominated by the presence of a perplexing and underwritten villain, makes this an instalment sadly lacking. Without the presence of a strong, interesting performer in the ensemble, Dark Phoenix ends the mutants' journey with something closer to a whimper than a bang.