Change is the essential process of all existence, and the X-Men films have always embraced change, changing the world to accept the existence of mutants among the “normal” population, changing the perception of the superhero film with global audiences and opening the door which allowed the Marvel Cinematic Universe to flourish, and even changing within the movies themselves with two casts playing the characters simultaneously across generations as well as stylistic shifts such as Deadpool and Logan.
The radical uniting of the eras of Stewart/McKellan and McAvoy/Fassbender was not the only feat of Days of Future Past which also removed The Last Stand from the continuity, writer Simon Kinberg “pulling a Bobby Ewing” and effectively erasing Brett Ratner’s bungled 2006 from the memories of the characters and sweeping it under the rug at the School for Gifted Youngsters as far as relieved audiences were concerned.
Now, five years later, Kinberg steps up to his directorial debut with a second attempt at that Dark Phoenix storyline, this time with Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, one of the most powerful mutants on the planet and the trusted right hand of Professor Charles Xavier, taken in by him and given a home when she was orphaned at eight years old in a terrible car accident of which she was the only survivor.
That was 1975, seventeen years ago; now Jean lives in a new world where mutants are accepted, even welcomed, with a phone direct from the White House to Professor X’s office should the President have need of the X-Men, and inevitably he does when the space shuttle Endeavour is damaged by what is apparently a solar flare, the crew stranded in orbit and helpless.
A simple extraction planned, Raven “Mystique” Darkhölme, Hank “Beast” McCoy, Scott “Cyclops” Summers, Ororo “Storm” Munroe, Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner and Peter “Quicksilver” Maximoff are despatched in the X Jet alongside Jean, but during the mission she becomes separated from them, taking the full brunt of the energy blast and absorbing it yet astonishingly surviving, but with the next step in her evolution triggered.
“You are not broken,” James McAvoy’s Professor X assures the young Jean in the opening scenes of the film, telling her instead that she is special, the ongoing theme of all the X-Men movies, but while Dark Phoenix is certainly not broken and is a vast improvement on The Last Stand it is still far from special, a disappointing conclusion to the current sequence which launched with 2011’s First Class.
Where the previous films have pushed the characters and the action, Dark Phoenix repeats earlier conversations and ideas without revealing new facets or insights without offering spectacle to compensate or at least distract, a danger which Kinberg should have been conscious of considering that this is already a thematic remake, his ensemble going through the motions and guest star Jessica Chastain required to do precisely nothing as Vuk, principal villain and blank slate.
With loyalties flipping with absolute certainty, inspirational heroes who have become known to audiences across two decades of light, shade, ambiguity and dilemma are reduced to the two-dimensional comic characters they were based on, Professor X’s never-not-relevant pleas for moderation in the face of a formerly hostile society – “We’re only one bad day away from being seen as the enemy again” – lost in the flames of the Dark Phoenix burning on arrival, more damp squib than spectacular firework.
Dark Phoenix is on general release and also screening in IMAX 3D