X-Men – Dark Phoenix
Directed by Simon Kinberg. Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain. Length 114 minutes. Rotten Tomatoes 23%
After unintentionally causing the death of her parents in a car accident, telepath Jean Gray is welcomed into the school for gifted children run by Professor Charles Xavier. Later on, during a space rescue mission with other X-Men, Jean takes a full hit from a solar flare. The energy greatly boosts her powers and destroys the mental barriers created by Xavier to protect her from past memories.
The twelfth film dedicated to the X-Men Universe, Dark Phoenix is the closing chapter in a saga that has lasted almost 20 years. The first film, X-Men, directed by Bryan Singer, was released in 2000. Its demise was decreed by Disney when it purchased the rights to the franchise, which was previously owned by 20th Century Fox.
Chronologically Dark Phoenix is located after X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) and stages the X-Men team in a “young” version, with James McAvoy as Professor Xavier, Fassbender as Magneto and Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique.
The film revolves around a character neglected by the last films of the series, but a key player within the Marvel Universe. Jean Gray, as the Black Phoenix, is well interpreted by Sophie Turner (who plays Sansa Stark in A Game of Thrones). She manages to make her inner conflict credible, torn apart as she is by immense desire, pain and anger, making her both extremely powerful and extremely dangerous.
Jean Gray is a heroine made up of lights and shadows, the incarnation of the eternal struggle between the good and evil which coexist inside her.
With such a powerful protagonist, the other characters inevitably end up taking second place. From this derives the slightly monotonous tone of the film. It is full of intense drama, danger and tension, but it fails to leave some space for the comic side that, to a greater or lesser extent, characterizes all the films taken from the Universe Marvel.
The bad guys, the D’Bari, led by an icy Jessica Chastain, are emotionless aliens who want to take over Jean's power and conquer the Earth. They take on the appearance of humans, speak very little and fight with their bare hands. They will hardly be remembered as one of the most original villains in the Marvel Universe.
Definitely more interesting are the themes of Dark Phoenix — what we can do with the gifts we are given and the thin line between “doing good in the name of good” and “doing good for glory and honour”. These are obviously dealt with at a fairly superficial level (it’s just a superhero film, in which action and visuals take the front seat), but they frame the plot and make the moral dilemmas credible.
In short, Dark Phoenix is an enjoyable product, which suitable for all ages. But it does not live up to the high expectations for the closing chapter of the X-Men saga. For a grand finale — especially when compared to another recent era-ending blockbuster, Avengers Endgame — maybe we needed something more.
Cassandra Albani writes from Italy.