Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jessica Chastain
Directors: Simon Kinberg
Runtime: 113 minutes
Release Date: 5th June 2019
Matt C: The last entry in 20th Century Fox's X-Men franchise (with the long-postponed The New Mutants increasingly unlikely to ever see the inside of a cinema auditorium), X-Men: Dark Phoenix tackles the legendary Dark Phoenix Saga from the pages of Uncanny X-Men #129 to #138, a collaboration between Chris Claremont and John Byrne that is widely regarded as one of the best comic book tales of all time. This was notoriously brought to the screen in 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, which squandered the epic nature of the story by positioning it as more of subplot. Dark Phoenix brings Jean Grey's transformation front and centre but fans of the original source material are likely to be disappointed again as it forges along its own, not-entirely-convincing path.
The film has had a somewhat troubled production, with reshoots causing delays leading to it arriving on the release schedule much later than planned. Where it should feel like a last hurrah or perhaps a case of unfinished business, instead it struggles to find inspiration, and there's an overriding sense of going through the motions for the majority of the running time. This is not necessarily a bad thing because the cast are still engaging (particularly McEvoy and Fassbender) and contrary to popular opinion on the lead up to its release date (which seemed very much informed by the lacklustre performance of X-Men: Apocalypse, issues with behind-the-camera personnel of past entries, and the knowledge that Marvel Studios were imminently getting their hands on the characters) it is a diverting superhero flick, even if it doesn't hold a candle to the box office juggernaut that is Avengers: Endgame. It's operating on a reduced scale compared to Apocalypse and had the potential to be so much more.
There's a number of reasons why it never achieves the kind of satisfying finale the franchise deserves, primarily because the whole enterprise feels emotionally flat, with only flashes of genuine connection amongst the main characters, and much of that is due to heavier lifting achieved in the previous three instalments. It doesn't help that the younger members of the X-Men haven't had the opportunity to become fully fleshed out - Sophie Turner acquits herself very well as the tormented Jean but without proper time to establish who she really is and the structure of her relationships with her peers (especially Cyclops) there's little sense of the impact her transformation has on others, beyond the increasingly earnest performances of the actors involved (there are very few jokes in this movie). Then there are the villains - led by a massively under-utilized Jessica Chastain - who have vague, undefined motivations and origins (they were reportedly Skrulls before extensive reshoots began), with Chastain mostly lumbered with exposition (that falls apart under even cursory scrutiny).
There are some decent action sequences (it's always entertaining to see Magneto deploying his power set in creative ways) and some scenes do manage to elicit genuine excitement, but it doesn't see the franchise conclude on a high note and won't stand up against some of the best offerings of the series (X2, Days Of Future Past, Logan). It's relatively more faithful to the timeless Claremont/Byrne Uncanny X-Men arc but still falls far short of translating the moving, thrilling experience of reading those comics into the live action environment. With the switch to Marvel Studios, we're unlikely to see this tale tackled again anytime soon (if ever), but if they do revisit it then perhaps it will have to be a case of third time lucky. 6/10