Dark Phoenix


Simon Kinberg had some unfinished business. As co-writer of Brett Ratner’s 2006 misfire X-Men: The Last Stand, he was partly responsible for botching the first screen adaptation of The Dark Phoenix Saga, Chris Claremont’s beloved comic storyline which pits Professor X’s students against one of their own when Jean Grey transforms into the titular antagonist. Now, 14 years later, Kinberg gets a chance to redeem himself – this time also in the director’s chair. No easy task, as Dark Phoenix not only had to nail the previously mangled mutant arc but also banish the memory of 2016’s wretched X-Men: Apocalypse. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, Dark Phoenix is set to be the final X-Men film to be distributed by 20th Century Fox following the studio’s acquisition by Disney. With the property inevitably set to be absorbed into MCU in the coming years, this “final” chapter needed to be a bang-not-a-whimper completion of the cycle of films launched by 2011’s series reboot X-Men: First Class

Thankfully, fans can breathe a sigh of relief as Dark Phoenix is far better than the trailers had led us to believe, with Kinberg winding up the series in a satisfying and often surprising manner. It’s not a faultless send-off by any means, but it gets a lot right, capturing the fantastical spirit of the 1990s animated TV show while sustaining a much grittier tone. In particular, the physical toll of combat can be felt much more acutely here than in previous films.

The cast have been one of the biggest draws of these recent films, and they once again deserve plaudits. Michael Fassbender is reliably charismatic as a younger Magneto, while James McAvoy gets some interesting character growth, with his affable Professor X paddling in more morally murky waters than usual. Special mention also goes to supporting players Nicholas Hoult as Hank “Beast” McCoy and Sophie Turner as Jean Grey; short-changed in Apocalypse, both actors get to shine in more developed roles, emphasising both the internal conflicts within the X-Men and the fragility of the truce between humans and mutants.

Ultimately, the main problem the film faces is its release date: in a post-Avengers: Endgame moviegoing landscape, audiences are either experiencing superhero fatigue or their genre thirst has been fully quenched for the time being. Dark Phoenix deserves better but might end up being the first casualty of Marvel’s (Infinity) gauntlet-drop.

Dark Phoenix | Directed by Simon Kinberg (US, 2019), with James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult. Starts June 06.

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