At one point in the twelfth film of the X-Men franchise that concludes after its eighteen-year run, a twenty-something Jean Grey demands that a man simply get out of her head. She’s raging and confused after absorbing a cosmic entity that she can’t seem to control. It’s a moment where you think the film is about to do something provocative and even progressive when it comes to a young woman’s emotions, in a similar way to something like Stephen King’s Carrie. The fire symbolism is already implanted in the film’s DNA as the phoenix rises from the ashes. And yet this is a film where too little time is spent getting to know Grey’s pain even if you get to watch her fiery fury, time and time again.
Set in 1992, though you wouldn’t know it from the unimaginative world-building, Sophie Turner is undeniably charismatic in the lead role, as she strides confidently from one thuddingly dull set piece to another. Add to that the fact that the screenplay pays condescending lip service to feminism but does hardly anything to back it up and this becomes a wholly frustrating experience. Roll your eyes as Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique utters a line about X-women having to do all the work to save the men, and sigh heavily at Turner’s scenes with Jessica Chastain, who plays a shape-shifting alien thirsty for world domination, where they barely even have time to sink a shot, let alone convincingly bond. The whole thing feels phoney and massively underwhelming.
Phoenix may converse about redemption and vengeance with Michael Fassbender’s Magneto on Genosha (a cross between a community garden in Portland and Shoreditch Boxpark), but there’s minimal pay off in the conclusion. The same stands for her thorny relationship with James McAvoy’s Xavier which sets the whole thing off. In fact, every facet of the film ignites an appealing flame or an interesting idea, which it soon stomps it out with inane spectacle. Aside from a few thrilling train top scuffles Dark Phoenix has very little fire in its belly.