First, a complaint. “Dark Phoenix,” the newest installment in Marvel’s series of “X-Men when they were younger” films, opens in 1975 - that’s the year flashed across the screen - with a little girl and her parents tooling down the road in dad’s sedan. “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon comes on the radio. OK, stop it right there! The film points out in big numbers that this is 1975, but that song wasn’t released till 1978. C’mon, filmmakers! Get your acts together!!
Right, that’s feels better. The little girl is young Jean Grey, who doesn’t quite yet understand her telekinetic powers. Neither do her troubled parents, but that doesn’t matter, as within a couple of minutes, there’s been a terrible crash, Jean has become orphaned, and she’s soon turned over to Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) who will raise her at his School for Gifted Youngsters because she’s ... gifted.
Events jump up to 1992, and Jean (Sophie Turner) is a full-fledged member of the X-Men, the team of extraordinary mutants overseen by Charles, who is sending them into space to rescue some American astronauts that are being menaced by a solar flare.
But even before things start to go wrong - especially for Jean - you know that’s no solar flare. That’s, it’s explained later to Jean by a dead-eyed emotionless alien being named Vuk (Jessica Chastain), a “pure cosmic force that destroys everything it touches, except you, Jean” or something like that.
But well before that big reveal which never comes around to making much sense, the X-Men land back on Earth, go about their business, and Jean’s irises take to alternating between their normal blue-green and mottled gold. She’s also become, her pal Hank says, stronger. To which she replies, “Yes, I feel like everything is turned up!”
This is a good thing, until it becomes a bad thing. Until the trauma from Jean’s childhood (that accident) and a few other long-pent-up feelings find their way to her surface. And as all X-Men fans know, you don’t want to mess with someone whose already formidable telekinetic powers get jacked, especially if it’s due to some malevolent pure cosmic force hiding within said person.
If you are a fan of this film franchise, and of the earlier franchise that presented the young X-Men as adult characters, some consternation exists. Without naming names, this installment leaves the series with less X-Men than are aboard at the beginning. This plot turn might stun newcomers, but it can’t be taken very seriously by followers because they’ll know that everyone is alive and well in the later stories. Of course, an explanatory follow-up sequel or two could remedy all of that.
But, sticking with this film, there are a few too many story swerves going on at once. The ordeal in space leads to division within Charles’ mutant ranks. There’s a quiet but deadly alien invasion, headed up by Vuk - yes, the one who has that chat with Jean. Soon after, our heroes meet up with the might of the American military, who are unhappy about Jean’s uncontrollable inner force killing some soldiers, and there’s a confrontation between Charles’ “good” mutants and Erik Lehnsherr’s (Michael Fassbender) “bad” mutants, even though they’re not really bad anymore. Here’s hoping that anyone not familiar with the earlier films will either see them first or skip this one.
Good news for everyone else: Knowing that all superhero movies lead up to big action set pieces, the one here does not disappoint. It takes place aboard a speeding night train, where mutants, military, and those vicious, shape-shifting aliens go head to head in devastating battle. As usual in this particular series, visual effects are superb, especially when they center on scenes of mass destruction and, now, speeding trains.
Taking into consideration all the havoc that comes before it, the ending is relatively peaceful. But, hold on, was that a hardly noticeable little white flash of light way up in the sky? Guess you’ll have to wait for the next one to find out. But you don’t have to wait for the end of the closing credits. Nothing’s there.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written and directed by Simon Kinberg
With James McAvoy, Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender