MOVIE REVIEW: X-Men finale goes down in flames
Two and a half stars
Director Simon Kinberg
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner, Michael Fassbender
Running time 114 minutes
Verdict Era ends with a fizzle, not a bang
Superchicks dominate Dark Phoenix.
So much so that a disenchanted Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), who has become increasingly frustrated by her boss's saviour complex, suggests that the infamous band of mutants be rebranded the X-Women.
At the centre of the film is Jean Grey's (Sophie Turner) extraordinary transformation from surly adolescent to a woman who quite literally smoulders.
"She's changing," says Professor X (James McAvoy).
"Into what?" asks Mystique.
Grey is an unusually volatile character. Like the Hindu goddess Kali, she represents both creation and destruction.
As a young woman, she has no idea of her own power. Or how to control it - especially when it's supercharged by a solar burst during a pretty routine space shuttle rescue.
Only Jessica Chastain's alien shapeshifter, Vuk, isn't afraid of her.
There is so much here that's worth exploring, but writer-director Simon Kinberg barely scratches the surface.
The problem is not so much the attempts of a paternalist Professor X's attempts to mansplain Grey's existential predicament to her - having already, somewhat creepily, tampered with her mind as a child.
It's more the dull and superficial path the filmmakers chart through such potentially rich and dramatic territory using a perfunctory plot about an alien race that plans to colonise the earth.
Only Lawrence and Michael Fassbender manage to layer their characters with some of the depth of X-Men's extensive back catalogue.
Dark Phoenix is the only non-Deadpool film in the X-Men franchise not to feature Wolverine, even though his character had a crush on Grey in the original Dark Phoenix comic saga.
According to Kinberg, the character's absence can be explained by the age difference between Turner and Hugh Jackman.
But in fact, Jackman's tortured, sculpted, tragic man-monster inhabits an entirely different universe.
Nicholas Hoult's blue Beast, by comparison, is just a big, dumb, loyal animal.
It's a handbag role.
The same goes for Tye Sheridan's Cyclops, whose main job is to retain his faith in Grey, despite her increasingly erratic behaviour. That and blast red-coloured beams of energy from his eyes - a rather limited gift.
Kodi Smit-McPhee's Nightcrawler is blessed with some impressive visual trickery and there's a real sting in his tail, but in a story that lacks any real imagination, he merely functions as a fancy plot device.
Dark Phoenix's weakest link is Professor X, presenting here as a weak, flawed father figure who is confused about his duty-of-care responsibilities.
Again, it's an interesting premise, woefully under-explored.
The X-Men franchise has consistently addressed broader issues of racism, bigotry and prejudice by drawing clear parallels between the oppression of mutants and other marginalised groups,
Dark Phoenix's subplot, in which Professor X seeks to protect the young Jean Grey from herself, and thus the truth, dovetails neatly with these themes.
But the treatment is so hackneyed, it's immediately apparent that nothing of much note will be arising from these ashes.