X-Men: Dark Phoenix

The trend of superhero spin-off movies continues. This time it’s Jean Grey’s origin story, as she goes from a child with powers her parents cannot fathom to an all-powerful member of the X-Men team. (Dark Phoenix is the 12th of the X-Men films.) Under the guidance and mentorship of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Jean (Sophie Turner) productively channelizes and utilizes her telekinetic powers.

Working in tandem with the US government, the X-Men are enlisted to embark on a space rescue mission, for which Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) picks a small team. During the mission Jean encounters a powerful cosmic force that begins to change her. Back on Earth bizarre events begin to unfold. The weirdest is the arrival of a group of hostile aliens that enter human bodies – “visitors” looking for a new planet to colonise.

A stiff and fierce Jessica Chastain embodies the shape-shifting enemy force. However, the real villain of the story is neither the alien invasion nor Jean’s increasingly dangerous power that is unleashing indiscriminate violence. It is writer-director Simon Kinberg’s script. He does tackle issues of trauma, loss, memory manipulation and identity but the film loads a revenge saga on top of this.

The mutants are divided in their love for and anger towards Jean, which results in a messy and crazy battle on the streets of New York. But this time we are not awed by the high-speed movements of Quicksilver (Evan Peters) or Nightcrawler’s (Kodi Smit-McPhee) ability to teleport. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) does add some surprises during an action sequence on a moving train and the death of one of the key characters is as sad as it is confusing in terms of timelines.

The mood is primarily sombre as we follow a conflicted Jean trying to come to terms with her past and her enhanced powers. Turner convincingly conveys Jean’s conflict as she teeters between good and evil. Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan and Alexandra Shipp also return in their parts as mutants Beast, Cyclops and Storm, but they all look rather disinterested, as if an alien takeover might be the best thing to end this franchise. Dark Phoenix is the greyest (pun intended) superhero spin-off yet.

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