X-Men: Dark Phoenix (3 stars)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Sophie Turner is at the fore of an initially fantastic but ultimately frustrating series closer from Simon Kinberg

Just as Avengers: Endgame recently marked the end of one giant phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so Fox's X-Men franchise brings to a close its main series after a 19-year run. It's been a long, erratic saga, which occasionally had something to say about societal intolerance. With Dark Phoenix it almost goes out on a high, though sadly not quite.

A decade has passed since the events of the last film, Apocalypse. Mutants have become accepted by the world at large, but only because Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) frequently sends his X-Men to save humans from disaster. It's a pragmatic approach, though there are signs that the Prof is getting carried away by the fame, and that he may be oblivious to the risks involved for his young charges.

Among these, is his protege Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). An affecting prologue outlines why Xavier has been keeping a lid on Jean's telepathic and telekinetic powers. But when a space rescue goes awry, her malevolent, all-conquering alter ego, Dark Phoenix, is let out of the box.

Jean's transformation into a baddie has been covered before, in 2006's disappointing The Last Stand. The filmmakers wanted another stab. The result, for a time, is fantastic. Plot and characterisation, visuals and sound have real heft. There's hubris, tragedy, pathos, and genuine creepiness courtesy of aliens with an interest in Jean's powers, whose Albino-like leader Vuk (Jessica Chastain) has the best line in the movie: 'It's so much easier to understand your language when you're not screaming.'

While McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult are as reliable as ever, it's not for nothing that Jennifer Lawrence's Raven tells Xavier it's time his team was called X-Women; Lawrence, Chastain and, in particular, Turner (who showed off her growing maturity in Game of Thrones) are at the forefront of all the best bits.

But suddenly it stalls, even feels cut short, as if writer-director Simon Kinberg (making his directorial debut after scripting three out of the last four X-Men instalments, including The Last Stand) ran out of time, or perhaps ideas. The final stretch might as well be called Mutants vs. Aliens, such is the return to routine, effects-driven action.

General release from Wed 5 Jun.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 53min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Simon Kinberg
  • Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Jessica Chastain

When Jean Grey (Turner) is involved in a space rescue that goes awry, her malevolent alter ego Dark Phoenix is let out of the box. There’s real heft to the plot and characterisation, and Turner lives up to her growing maturity, but then it’s like it runs out of time and ideas, relapsing into routine, effects-drive…

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