It is 19 years since the X-Men first burst onto our cinema screens. Bringing with them a new appetite for comic book adaptations. Over the course of those 19 years the X-Men franchise has seen its fair share of success and failure. With spin offs, re-launches and sequels creating a mosaic of quality and creativity.
However after 19 years at the heart of the hero genre. Dark Phoenix marks the final chapter in the ‘First Class’ re-launch that began in 2011. A series that in spite of an extremely talented cast never really got off the ground. The public appetite for X-Men replaced by a growing universe of other Marvel films.
With a story centring around Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). Dark Phoenix never truly rises above formula filmmaking. Ultimately demonstrating a franchise that has run out of ideas, coupled with a studio who see potential financial return.
Our story starts in the 1970s with a young Jean Grey (Summer Fontana) travelling in the family car with her mum and dad. The lonely and isolated the highway the perfect place for Jean’s unfocused yet powerful mutant abilities to lead to tragedy. However, young Jean escapes the mangled car unscathed, her talents brought to the attention of Dr Xavier (McAvoy). Who duly takes her into his care at his home for extraordinary young people.
Action then returns to 1990s America, where the X-Men are regarded as heroes. Xavier having built a mutant collective that is not only accepted by society. But also acts as protectors and allies of the non mutant population. However, when the X-Men (and women) find themselves called upon to help save a space shuttle mission on the brink of disaster. The safety and security of the world they have built threatened by a mysterious force, with Jean Grey at the centre of its plans.
Despite superb sound design and a beautiful deep colour pallet. Dark Phoenix never manages to rise above the flames of its script. While direction and performances feel subdued, and largely uninterested in the story on offer. Added to this is a lack of screen time for the diverse characters X-Men offers. The majority of which feel sidelined early in the proceedings in favour of a smaller central cast.
There are however, a range of interesting themes sitting at the heart of Dark Phoenix. Ranging from childhood trauma, through to the nature of family and belonging. However, these are bi-passed in favour of action set pieces that ultimately offer little to final product. While the only real emotional depth comes from McAvoy as a conflicted Xavier.
Dark Phoenix never manages to rise above an overwhelming feeling of franchise fatigue. Culminating in a disappointing swan song for a set of characters who set in motion a rebirth of Marvel on screen.
Director: Simon Kinberg