The latest—and maybe last, for now—film in the main X-Men franchise arrives on June 7 after many delays. Its release was pushed back several times, leading some fans and gleeful doubters to speculate about whether the films studio, Fox, had any confidence in it. And indeed, in light of all that, the movie feels too late and too little, a minor work thats perhaps too streamlined to be really messy, but nonetheless has an air of shambling inexactness. Why this? Why now? Why ever?

Well, that last question is easy to answer. The film, written and directed by Simon Kinberg, is called Dark Phoenix, a title familiar to anyone with an even mild understanding of the X-Men world. The Dark Phoenix saga—about psychic and telekinetic hero Jean Grey turning into an omnipotent menace after a space accident—has been foundational lore for the X-Men for over 40 years, a towering tale of power loosed and fallen favorites. Its been told in comic books, in a cartoon series, and in the 2006 film X-Men: The Last Stand. And yet there was maybe still a definitive version to be done, an opportunity that Fox saw in the casting of Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner, who first appeared in Kinbergs X-Men: Apocalypse. Here could be the most august recitation of this tragic story, done with contemporary sensibility (particularly about the seriousness of superhero mythos) and special effects that could place human drama right alongside all the spectacle.

I get the thinking. But after Apocalypses wan reception, the current iteration of the franchise maybe just didnt have the right momentum—both internal and external—to deliver such a weighty package. Thats what comes across in watching Dark Phoenix, which is plodding and perfunctory and near entirely devoid of awe. Kinberg tries for that wonder, especially in the films ominous and almost artful opening stretches—but all too soon the film settles into a dull plug-and-play rhythm, giving us heavy talk about the onus of extraordinary ability that is lazily rehashed from the X-Men films that have come before. Kinberg has been handed a fine cast of actors to stage the drama, but theyre given little to do, most of them trudging through on grim autopilot as the movie walks with aim but little purpose toward a hurried conclusion.

Did anyone want to be there? It certainly doesnt seem that way. Jennifer Lawrence, whose shape-shifter Mystique has helped anchor the franchise since X-Men: First Class, has hidden her apparent boredom in the past, especially in the shoulda-been-series-closer Days of Future Past. But in Dark Phoenix, she cannot muster any of that old showmanship. Her apathy—which is somewhat understandable—is met generously by the film, in a way I wont spoil. (Though its already been sorta spoiled in the trailers.) Michael Fassbender, as conflicted renegade Magneto, is made to strain a little harder for his supper, and gives it about a semester-and-a-halfs worth of the college try. (The mutant academy try?)

Only James McAvoy expands on his performance as all-knowing shepherd-commander Professor X. But thats because hes actually asked to play new shades of the character: intriguing chords of manipulation and hubris run through Dark Phoenixs version of Charles Xavier, which McAvoy communicates with his usual nuanced intensity. His scenes, when Xavier stubbornly digs in his heels and insists his way is right, show what kind of psychologically complex movie Dark Phoenix could have been had there not been all this rush to just get it done.

The movie is so eager to get itself over with that its title anti-heroine even seems an afterthought. Theres a whole fascinating read on the Dark Phoenix narrative—particularly in the way it addresses women and power—that Kinbergs film only limply gestures at. Mostly, Turner does the same “what is happening to me???”/“I cant control it!” scene over and over, leaving us still unsure if Turner is a star who can shake off Game of Thrones and assert her talent elsewhere. Im rooting for her, but Dark Phoenix is so stifled, in its curious way, that its arguable lead is left in the shadows.

As is its villain, a pale alien embodied with sinister glide by Jessica Chastain.Read More – Source

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Vanity Fair

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