FILM REVIEW – DARK PHOENIX. With Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain. Written and directed by Simon Kinberg. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language. 113 minutes.
There are really two stories at play in DARK PHOENIX and only one of them is taking place on screen. Taking place a few years before the events in the original “X-Men” (2000), the focus here is on Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), one of the mutants who lives at the school run by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). During a rescue mission at the request of the American president, Grey encounters some alien force and finds her telekinetic powers have vastly increased.
She also learns how she was manipulated by Xavier as a child to shield her from the memories of a childhood trauma, and breaks with her former teammates, including the shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Her journey brings her to Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who has created his own safe haven for mutants. The mutants ending up fighting with each other, with the authorities, and with a small alien force led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain), who craves Jean’s new powers as well as the entire planet Earth.
As usual in the best of the films based on Marvel Comics, it as much character-driven as it is about the battles and special effects. Turner plays Jean as a young woman torn as to what direction her life should take, and whether her powers are a blessing or a curse. The other character struggling is, surprisingly, Xavier. McAvoy has played the part in several films as a younger version of the character played by Patrick Stewart. Here Xavier has to confront the fact that in his desire to protect Jean he made terrible mistakes for which other people pay the price.
(We’re not supposed to notice that the odd time line of the series, which has gone back into the past as well as into the future, has created a continuity problem because McAvoy and Fassbender haven’t aged. Their characters, as well as that of Jean Grey, Storm, Mystique, and Cyclops, should be much older than they appear here.)
The off-screen story is that, like the recent and much higher profile “Avengers: Endgame,” this film marks the end of the line for this iteration of the franchise. The reason for that is that Disney, which owns Marvel Studios, recently acquired 20th Century Fox, which had the license for X-Men. Now the characters can be folded into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it enters its second decade and “Phase Four.”
“Dark Phoenix” may divide hardcore Marvel fans, but while it may not rank with the very best in the series neither is it just going through the motions. Simon Kinberg – scriptwriter on several of the film and who makes his directorial debut here – can hold his head high. It may not be a blockbuster, but it provides a graceful exit after nineteen years.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.