X-Men Dark Phoenix movie cast: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain
X-Men Dark Phoenix movie director: Simon Kinberg
X-Men Dark Phoenix movie rating: Three and a half stars
The 12th in the X-Men franchise, counting the two Deadpool films; part of an alternative timeline; officially designated the last of the X-Men instalments; with something called ‘The New Mutants’ coming up in 2020.
Dark Phoenix does carry a lot of baggage, not to mention fatigue factor, and the burden of Avengers: Endgame and of the inevitable comparisons with a recent Marvel film with a woman as lead, which can seem quite similar.
And yet, it brings to the table something special. It gives us a heroine who is unapologetically strong, stronger than all the men in the room, sturdier than the one she is in love with, with no feminine qualities to make her go down easy with the audiences.
In her stern leather trench coats, trousers, boots and T-shirts, her hair pulled back from her face, her eyes brooding, her face in pain, a stunning Sophie Turner as Jean Grey gives us a superhero who is as traumatised as they come, in the process lending this film a pulsating heart, and her Dark Phoenix blazing wings.
Such is the intensity of her performance in all her portrayals — from the girl who was abandoned to the woman whom the world fears as they can’t pigeonhole her — that even the mighty Lawrence as Mystique fades.
The only one who gets an equal emotional range is McAvoy as Charles Xaviers, who in the year 1975 brought in Jean, then 8, after an accident she miraculously survived, to his school for gifted children. The film sets off in 1992, with a space shuttle mishap that requires a globally televised rescue by the X-Men, and where Jean undergoes her transformation.
Dark Phoenix also dwells on an interesting dynamic between Charles and his wards, pondering whether it is just the interests of the latter that drive him or is he seeking personal glory by pushing his X-Men into increasingly risky zones. It dabbles, if briefly, with the failings of anyone in his position of absolute control, and also the fickleness of a world where superheroes can quickly be branded villains if they stray outside their demarcated boundaries.
One wonders if Dark Phoenix would not have been a better film if it focused on this inter-play of its characters, their egos and misunderstandings, their friction and bonds, and women and the definitions that bind them (Mystique tells Charles whether he shouldn’t rename his team given it’s the women who have been mostly saving the men). The whole alien invasion thing, led by a colder-than-ever platinum blond Chastain as Vuk, is an inferior and lazy plot by comparison — though she does manage to do quite a bit of running wearing stilettos. The reason causing Jean to fall out with Charles also seems contrived beyond a point.
Still, it gives the film a reason to go looking for Magneto (Fassbender, always a delight) — even if in an ashram-like setting where words pop up in Hindi, like ‘elephant painting’ — to see Magneto turn an army of guns onto Vuk, to stage a climax in and on a train, and to set twisted metal wagons flying up into the sky.
That is a sight you won’t easily forget.