‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ is a disappointing, confusing mess

Rated PG-13: For intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images and brief strong language.
Playing at: Alamo Drafthouse, Premiere Cinemas (includes IMAX and D-Box auditoriums), Tinseltown 17, Movies 16 and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Credits: Directed by Simon Kinberg. Screenplay by Simon Kinberg from a story by John Byrne, Chris Claremont and David Cockrum. Based on comic book created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.  Music by Hans Zimmer. Cinematography by Mauro Fiore. Edited by Lee Smith. Production design by Claude Pare. Art direction by Vincent Aird, Ravi Bansal, David Gaucher, Mathieu Giguere, Vincent Gingras-Liberali,  Michele Laliberte, Felix Lariviere-Charron, Veronique Meunier, Sandra Nieuwenhuijsen, Kimberly Zaharko and Loic Zimmermann. Costume design by Daniel Orlandi.
Cast: James McAvoy as Professor Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbinder as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique, Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast, Sophie Turner as Jean Grey/Phoenix, Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers/Cyclops, Alexandra Shipp as Ororo Munroe/Storm, Evan Peters as Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver, Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Warner/Nightcrawler, Jessica Chastain as Vuk and Summer Fontana as 8-year-old Jean.

Bill’s rating: Two of five stars

Screenwriters appear to have a fine time providing memorable one-liners in Simon Kinberg’s “X-Men, Dark Phoenix,” a reference to character Jean Grey cheating death – but then making those close to her pay for it.

Professor Charles Xavier (played by James McAvoy) is the target of the more barbed accusations, asked by one in uniform if his merry crew of life savers might more honestly be labeled “X-Women” and, later with an angry X-Man perhaps speaking for the audience, “You’re always sorry, and there’s always a speech. But nobody cares anymore.”

Zing!

Just as disappointing is the professor being introduced as a publicity hound.

An even bigger problem: One character eventually disappears in predictable fashion, yet probably for no better reason than this being a final contract-mandated appearance. X-Men fans’ expected grieving may give way to the scratching of heads. Consider the setting and then think back to, bear with me, a potential later appearance in an earlier story dealing with time travel.

The size of the cinematic mess created depends on how much time one devotes to this scene and  erratic preceding chapters.

The best of the X-Men movies may be Bryan Singer’s original in 2000 and of course James Mangold’s spinoff “Logan” in 2017, although that does not take into account the “Deadpool” spinoffs. Then again, just try keeping up with the entire franchise, considering there were so many prequels and almost as many “Wolverine” offshoots.

Looking ahead, Disney has purchased the X-Men franchise from 20th Century Fox. Long-rumored follow-up “The New Mutants” could begin introducing new characters as early as 2020, although that release date is far from firm. It has been juggled for some time. If the bond between Disney and the Marvel Comics Universe has any say in future X-Men stories, mutants could be on an extended vacation.

Meanwhile, with Sophie Turner leaving her reign as Queen of the North on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” in favor of a potential Hollywood blockbuster, she will not be the only one disappointed. Her HBO character, while younger, is far more interesting and complicated.

The movie opens with a flashback, a reminder of 8-year-old Jean Grey being responsible for a highway accident that claims her mother’s life. Her father no longer wants a child he cannot understand, so he allows Professor X to become her guardian.

The professor helps Jean survive and grow by dodging the truth and, instead, placing memory-blocking walls in her mind.

Cut to a later year and X-Men are asked to rescue the crew of an American shuttle spinning out of control in space.

Jean, Professor X, Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp) use combined powers to save the surely doomed astronauts. In the process, Jean accepts the brunt of what is assumed to be a solar flare.

Instead, it is an interstellar force which, now trapped inside Jean, causes the destruction of aforementioned walls in her mind.

No longer hidden truths reveal dishonesty on the part of loved ones. Jean’s rage is encouraged by alien leader Vuk (taking the form of Jessica Chastain). Oh, did I not mention visiting, shape-shifting aliens who wants to destroy all humanity and claim Earth as a replacement for their dying planet?

And yes, all of this is just as goofy as it sounds.

It takes four screenwriters, in addition to comic book story creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, to have Turner’s Jean utter such clichés as, “When I lose control, things – bad things – happen to people I love.”

Well, of course.

Rather useless is Professor X approaching rival Magneto (Michael Fassbender) for physical and mental support – except this concept will place both among the X-Men on a speeding train being attacked by Vuk’s fellow aliens.

The sequence makes use of thousands of rounds of ammunition, with some aliens definitely killed and others simply ignored after being thrown off of the train. (Surely this wouldn’t kill them?)

Intended to be a dynamic, action-packed confrontation – not to mention one teasing the possibility of an X-Man making the ultimate sacrifice – the train sequence simply makes a reverent bow to the technical possibilities of computer-generated, and rather emotionally lifeless, special effects.

Kinberg is blessed with a more than capable cast, true, and also hints at future X-Men via brief glimpses at Professor Xavier’s school.

Sadly, what strikes one as important and exciting at the outset gradually becomes lethargic. Knowing that Disney has its hands full of superheroes and years may pass before any X-Men are re-introduced, who knows if the ones in this particular adventure even will be remembered?

Gage’s rating: Two of five stars

With the primary faces of the X-Men, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier, having retired, it will be interesting to observe in what direction this franchise moves.

As it turns out, I’m not sure the producers or writers have an inkling of where it will end up – considering that “X-Men, Days of Future Past” (2014) involved time travel and changing the future. And then somehow that turned into a new cinematic mess called “X-Men, Dark Phoenix,” which I just watched and still can’t wrap my head around quite yet.

First off, and I know I’m beating a dead horse, but the trailer reveals way too much of what happens in the movie.

Plus, it does not take a Batman-like intellect to figure out which X-Man will be first to kick the bucket.

(Even so, the other critic on this page insists it is far too early for me to type out the identity of this spoiler. But heck, just think about it, people.)  Regardless, the acting is solid, and this might have been a heartfelt X-Man death if I had not seen it coming from a mile off.

But – wait. Wait, the same person is deleting another of my sentences, and won’t let me reveal another X-Man’s fate. This one, we lose, I think, in surprisingly heroic fashion. Well, it seemed so anyway; I’m still not quite sure.

Again, the acting is strong, providing a view of fearing one’s own power. Still, I did not like the direction taken by the script or direction, making this film only a little better than “X-Men, The Last Stand” (2006).

It’s as though they didn’t like how “Days of Future Past” ended, so they just decided to create an entirely different timeline, which confused me.

The biggest disappointments for me were leading performances by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.

McAvoy, playing Charles Xavier, decides to become a magazine model personality and spouts the “I’m trying to do the right thing, but it’s wrong” cliche. This did not feel like who this character really was, or who he had been ever since McAvoy played Charles earlier (pre-Patrick Stewart), which is sad.

The performance by Fassbender, here playing Magneto/Erik Lehnsherr, struck me as bizarre. I did not like his complete change of heart at the end, when he is still the same character. It didn’t sit right with me that he could be buddy-buddy with Charles again. (Hey look, I got my spoiler in.) It’s just weird, in my opinion.

The story feels like a revised edition of a similar one in “X-Men, The Last Stand,” although maybe a little bit better. It didn’t work in that movie because it felt forced and unnecessary. It also does not work this time.

There is a certain chronology the filmmakers needed to follow, set by “Days of Future Past,” in which Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey and everyone else are still alive. That’s where I think this movie loses it. It refuses to follow the rules set by itself, which can only lead to utter confusion for me and everyone else paying attention.

However, I was moved by Nicholas Hoult’s performance as Hank McCoy/Beast. He was good and he brings a lot of emotion to the character we really had not seen before. That is a good sign and I hope he continues playing Beast.

Everything else about “Dark Phoenix,” from the characters to even non-confusing action sequences, were only OK. There was nothing truly memorable about them.

While I do believe some fans will enjoy watching “Dark Phoenix,” I’m ready to move on to other films. Without Hugh Jackman to steer this ship, it appears the X-Men franchise might be on a collision course with Dead Franchise Island.

And with both “X-Men Apocalypse” (2016) and now “Dark Phoenix” having failed, we must wait and see what happens next to this team of iconic superheroes.