PLOT A girl with superpowers grows up to become a dangerous force.
CAST Sophie Turner, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy
RATED PG-13 (some strong violence)
BOTTOM LINE It’s either an origin story or a series finale, but it’s definitely a low point in the “X-Men” franchise.
“X-Men,” Bryan Singer’s superhero film from 2000, was unusual in two ways. One, it was part of a genre that barely existed, and two, its mutant characters were complicated, with powers that made them supra-human but also pariahs. The movie felt fresh, original and brave.
Nearly 20 years and fully 12 titles later, the Fox franchise no longer seems any of those things. At their best, the movies have style (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”), but they can also be pretty crumby (“X-Men: The Last Stand”). The modern Marvel movies, by contrast, so varied in tone yet all of a piece, quickly lapped the “X-Men.”
The latest, “Dark Phoenix,” pretty much throws in the towel. Described as the “culmination” of the main series, it ostensibly serves as the origin story of the mysterious mutant Jean Grey. It also seals fates and puts familiar faces out to pasture. It’s a hello and a goodbye at once, then, and every bit as muddled as it sounds.
Grey, played by Sophie Turner ("Game of Thrones"), has flickered through the X-Men timeline as a kind of emotional ghost who haunts other mutants. Orphaned as a girl, then taken in by the mutant leader Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Jean grows up to become a part of the X-Men team (led briefly by Jennifer Lawrence as Raven). A rescue mission in space brings Jean in contact with a solar flare — or perhaps it’s not that, but something even more cataclysmic. At any rate, it lives inside her now, and causes chaos when it leaks out.
Writer-director Simon Kinberg, though a longtime “X-Men” producer and screenwriter, doesn’t seem to have a handle on his own movie. Turner does a lot of crying and brooding as Jean but never convinces us that she’s transforming into a cosmic goddess of death. Jean is also reduced to a mere MacGuffin, tossed back and forth between Xavier, his frenemy Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and a space alien dubbed Smith (a chilling Jessica Chastain). So little happens in this movie that the climactic battle seems to arrive too soon, before we’ve been given a chance to care.
The best news about “Dark Phoenix” is that it may usher in a New Age of Disney, which recently purchased Fox, bringing the X-Men into the Marvel universe. Maybe it's goodbye and hello after all.
The “X-Men” franchise, now on Film No. 12, can be a little maddening — sometimes excellent, sometimes dispiritingly mediocre. Here are four of the series’ best titles:
X-MEN (2000) Bryan Singer’s franchise-launcher, released nearly a decade before Marvel launched the modern superhero era, still feels bold and original. Also, this is where Hugh Jackman first became the impressively chiseled Wolverine.
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) Set against the Cold War of the 1960s, this installment gives us the origin stories of two great frenemies, James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender’s Erik “Magneto” Lensherr. Slick, well-acted and fast-paced.
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) A super-stylish entry from director Matthew Vaughn, later of “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” The time-travel story is clever, but let’s be honest: It’s really the early-1970s outfits that make this movie pop.
LOGAN (2017) James Mangold’s second Wolverine feature broke with genre tradition by casting Jackman as a graying, fading hero — an old cowboy, essentially, heading for his last rodeo. Violent as a Sam Peckinpah Western but also meditative and moving, “Logan” is one of the best-reviewed superhero movies of all-time, with a 93% rating at RottenTomatoes. — RAFER GUZMAN