Dark Phoenix ends once-mighty X-Men franchise not with a bang, but a shrug

Longtime X-Men writer and producer Simon Kinberg directs his own screenplay in this final instalment of the current X-Men franchise.

As Tony Stamp writes, familiar IP may be the name of the game in Hollywood these days but man, give us something new.

The X-franchise has been going for nearly twenty years now, its first two films setting the tone of superheroics for years to come before a series of mostly interchangeable instalments—some good, some bad—bring us to this almost-final gasp (we have the series-adjacent The New Mutants still to come).

It speaks to the state of modern movie-making that Dark Phoenix doesn’t just reboot a story we saw told four films ago in the third X-Men entry (admittedly it’s been thirteen years), but brings back the same damn writer to give it another crack. And lets him direct the damn thing. I mean, familiar IP may be the name of the game in Hollywood these days but man, give us something new.

Helmer Simon Kinberg does throw out a few interesting wrinkles to begin with—the X-Men are publicly lauded as heroes, Xavier’s morality comes into question—but those points aside it’s very much business as usual. Oh and the baddies aren’t other mutants this time, they’re invincible aliens, which has no impact on the plot but to give a sleepy looking Jessica Chastain some Terminator 2 moments.

Sophie Turner is clearly ready for her close-up, and McAvoy and Fassbender exude gravitas without breaking a sweat, but there’s a definite ‘going through the motions’ vibe to proceedings. An A-list character dies and it barely registers. The movie itself seems in a rush to get to the credits and have this all done with.

A very expensive movie that feels weirdly small, Dark Phoenix takes the action into space early on before leaving behind any sense of wonder or heroism in favour of a series of small, earth-bound brawls that are entertaining but visually confusing. It’s a bummer, a once-mighty franchise going out not with a bang, but a shrug.