“Dark Phoenix” rose from the ashes of “X-Men: Apocalypse,” and maybe this was better off dead.
It starts with a flashback to 1975. Jean Grey loses her parents in a car crash she caused. Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) welcomes her into his school for gifted youths. When she asks if he’s going to try to fix her, he says, “No, because you’re not broken.”
Flash-forward and the X-Men jet into space to save astronauts from what they think are destructive solar flares. Jean (Sophie Turner) absorbs this monstrous cosmic force. That puts her on the crosshairs of Vuk (Jessica Chastain), a shapeshifting alien jonesing for Jean’s new cosmic power.
Repressed memories are unlocked for Jean, then destruction and murder. “She’s all desire, all rage, all pain and it’s coming out of her at once,” Xavier says — but you never feel it from this character.
“Game of Thrones” star Turner seems reduced to lukewarm tears, CGI facial cracks and magic-hand poses. There’s a wealth of depth and pain to this character, and quite a range for this actress, but Turner never really taps into it.
Chalk that up to newbie director Simon Kinberg, maybe? He relies heavily on teary-eyed closeups and underwater-hair effects.
He has produced and/or written many films in the franchise, “Last Stand,” “Days of Future Past,” “Apocalypse.” This is his first go at directing, and while he knows his craft from way behind the camera, he may not know how to draw passion from his players yet.
You remember that play-acting powers can be gripping and effective with Michael Fassbender’s Magneto. During a mutant-power tug of war with helicopters, Fassbender bares his teeth, straining and roaring. Before that, everyone’s phoning it in.
McAvoy’s Xavier feels stale and barely there, a caricature of wholesome in flashbacks.
There’s some life when Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler taps into anger, and Alexandra Shipp does a more convincing job playing Storm, in accent and engagement, than her predecessor. Nicolas Hoult’s Beast adds a little spark in a dinner table scene, but he mostly feels tired — and you might, too, watching this.
Even Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar-winning charisma can’t resurrect “Dark Phoenix.” She’s operating at half-speed, but she does have the most woke lines. “Women are always saving men around here. Think about changing the name to ‘X-Women.’”
There’s no real sense of urgency or pacing here, but there are a lot of generic fight scenes with gratuitous crashes, booms and blams. In one scene, Magneto enters a front door, and a bus follows, tearing the house apart — for what?
Writer/director Kinberg seems to have positive intentions with a screenplay that accesses the dialogue of today. (“Your emotions make you weak.” / “My emotions make me strong.”) But there are many missed opportunities to develop characters or to briefly portray the loneliness of the outcast, a theme rich in the X-Men canon.
There’s more X on the horizon with “The New Mutants” slated for April 2020, and no doubt the Disney/Marvel merger with Fox. The latest in the 12-movie franchise leaves just enough space for future spinoff potential.
If they do bring this one back from the dead, hopefully, they make it worth it — because “Dark Phoenix” didn’t.
Starring: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender
Director: Simon Kinberg
Writer: Simon Kinberg
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language
Now showing: Duluth 10, Lakes 10, Premiere theaters