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X-Men: Dark Phoenix - Review

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

THE final film in the X-Men series that started so brilliantly with First Class may lack the emotional intensity [and complexity] of the more recent Avengers: Endgame but still ends on its own kind of high.

Contrary to a lot of reviews, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is an exciting climax to this particular incarnation of the Marvel characters, both improving on the last entry, Apocalypse, and further banishing the memory of series low Last Stand (which also took the Chris Claremont/John Byrne’s 1980 Dark Phoenix saga as their inspiration).

It doesn’t reach the highs of the best the series has had to offer, (X2 or the aforementioned First Class) but it does bring a satisfying sense of closure that carries its own sense of melancholy. Disney and the MCU will now take over, and there is a sense of loss that actors of the calibre of Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy won’t be part of any future plans.

Set in 1992, the film finds the X-Men going all Thunderbirds and heading into space at the request of the US President to rescue the crew of a stricken space shuttle. But while successful in preventing any loss of human life, one of the mutants – Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) – bears the brunt of the cosmic force threatening the shuttle, lending her even more power than she had before.

As she struggles to make sense of this, her past comes back to haunt her, resulting in violent displays of anger that place the lives of those she loves in immediate jeopardy.

If there’s a major flaw in writer-director Simon Kinberg’s film it’s that it attempts to fit in a lot in a relatively short space of time for a modern superhero film. Where the likes of The Avengers have had anywhere between two and a half to three hours to wrap things up, Dark Phoenix unfolds in under two.

It means that Kinberg has less time to juggle the action with the emotion and only really offers fleeting moments of psychological exploration. Grey’s internal battle, as she tries to make sense of her own troubled past, is perhaps played a little too quickly and doesn’t give Turner enough to work with to create a genuinely gut-wrenching emotional arc. But there is still enough to make her journey worth taking.

McAvoy, meanwhile, reminds us of just how great an actor he is by doing a lot with even less. His Charles Xavier in this film is a shell of his former self – a leader prone to drinking and egotistic risk-taking, who finds himself at odds with his own ‘family’ at several points. There is arguably more of a journey for him to go on in this film, and McAvoy grasps the opportunity, albeit with less screen time than usual.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Fassbender’s Magneto, while also reduced to a smaller player, remains as cool and enigmatic as usual, while Kinberg does well to give most of the characters a moment in the sun – if not emotionally for all, then at least during the film’s climactic tussle aboard a train where they get to flex their super powers.

That said, a final scene between Fassbender and McAvoy is nicely realised and beautifully played, leaving with it that sense of melancholy that we’re definitely saying goodbye to two old friends.

Another plus is how X-Men: Dark Phoenix also delivers some genuinely rousing set pieces, most of which revolve around Grey and her powers. But an early confrontation in the suburbs is well handled and delivers one of the film’s few genuine shocks, as is a confrontation between Grey and Magneto in New York.

The final train battle, in which another of the film’s main characters (Jessica Chastain’s alien) plays a key role, is similarly well staged, albeit without the sense of peril that perhaps made the climax of Endgame such a benchmark setter.

Hence, while falling short of that kind of classic status, Dark Phoenix still deserves to be celebrated on its own merits. It does bring a decent sense of closure, it excites on a visceral level, and it still manages – albeit on a smaller scale – to explore some weighty and relevant issues: feminism is touched upon [albeit glibly], while the metaphor for the X-Men as outsiders or people who may be viewed as different is relatable and highly relevant.

Given the downward trajectory that this franchise had appeared to be heading in following Apocalypse, Kinberg has engineered something of a Phoenix-like rise of his own to ensure that fans – if not critics – can bid McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence and co a fond farewell.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 1hr 54mins
UK Release Date: June 5, 2019