In the twelfth instalment of the X-Men franchise, writer of the series Simon Kinberg makes his directorial debut in what could well be the last stand for the series as we know it now that Disney has merged with Fox. The franchise has been rapidly declining in quality since First Class. Following the under-performance of X-Men: Apocalypse, Dark Phoenix could well be the final nail in the coffin that makes its new owners press the reset button and let Marvel inject some mutant power to reignite the Phoenix to rise from the flames.
Set in 1992, the now bald Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) will do anything to prove that mutants are not a threat to humankind. Having set up a deal with the American president to use the abilities of his students in times when the military just won’t do, Charles sends a select team of mutants which include Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into space to rescue a team of astronauts whose spacecraft has begun to spiral out of control due to a burning cosmic force. In the process of the rescue mission, Jean absorbs the full brunt of the unknown force.
It soon becomes glaringly evident that the staple male characters take a bit of a back seat as they phone in their performances. Not least for the lacklustre story development which equates to laziness, but also for the moment when Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique states that the X-Men should be renamed X-Women due to the ladies always saving the day. Jean takes centre stage as she becomes a ball of blazing anger as the cosmic force quickly corrupts her powers.
This is Jean Grey’s story, told from short, sharp flash backs to her childhood through to her present day. Jean has to deal with her issues from the death of her mother to the unravelling of secrets that make her distrust Charles and his own motives, giving birth to new ones helped along by Jessica Chastain’s shape-shifting alien whispering sweet, evil nothings to fuel the flames of destruction.
The major issue is there are two storylines trying to merge into one but they don’t quite sit in harmony. On the one hand, we have Charles and his X-Men – who entice Michael Fassbender’s Magneto out of his rural compound and back into society – divided whether to save Jean from herself. On the other are a small group of shape-shifting aliens that want to use Jean’s new power to create a new world for themselves. However, there is absolutely no substance or creativity on this side of the story. Nothing but a brief outline of their purpose is forthcoming, making it a redundant side piece to an already dwindling plot.
The result of the numerous edits and reshoots that have surrounded the production comes a gaping hole of emptiness, a lack of soul, a story so undercooked it feels far from a finished product. It also comes in as the shortest film in the franchise, could this be Kinberg’s way of telling us he just wanted to get this over and done with? The four horsemen of the apocalypse have finally rained down and extinguished this Dark Phoenix.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix hits cinemas June 5th.