The X-Men End and Begin with ‘Dark Phoenix’ ☆☆

You’re having a posh dinner party in your beautiful country mansion when you wonderful Golden Retriever, Luna, begins barking. You decide to go and investigate…alone, in the dark. I can’t be sure, but you might even be in walking in high heels on long grass.

Your dog won’t go beyond a certain point, but you do. Your friends have been totally unconcerned for your safety, but luckily you return to the table and then your guests soon realize: You’re not yourself–literally. Your body has been taken over by aliens. Whoever you were is gone and you’re not Vuk (Jessica Chastain).

These are aliens that a certain wall wouldn’t prevent from entering the country and, no doubt, these aliens, who came from three spots of light in the night sky, are without the proper papers for entering the country, killing people and taking over their bodies.

Who Vuk is exactly and why Vuk has come to take over Earth in a small group isn’t adequately explored and since this is not the beginning, but the end of an X-men cycle, this isn’t the beginning of a long saga where the mysterious figures will be explained as we saw in Marvel’s Avengers series with the tragic but misguided Thanos.

Vuk does give Chastain the opportunity to play another steel-cold bitch and prepare us for a climatic gals get wild fight.

Before we get there, we have to go back and remind the audience members who, like myself, haven’t been following the X-men saga. This is how the movie actually begins–with a flashback that takes us back to the 1970s when a young Jean Grey (Summer Fontana) is faced with a common dilemma–being forced to listen to your parents’ favorite tunes while on a road trip.

In a childish rage, Jean Grey lets her mutant powers take control and causes an accident that causes the car to run into another vehicle and flips over the family’s car. She, herself, emerges without a scratch because although everyone was wearing seatbelts, she summoned a protective force field that kept the shattered glass from touching her. Her mother and father, however, were not so lucky. The other vehicle seems to have mysteriously disappeared from the other head shot.

A different sort of child protection services is called: Charles Xavier (James McAvoy and not Patrick Stewart because of incidents in a previous X-Men movie). The young Jean admits, “I break things.” Xavier wisely says, but “you are not broken.”

Xavier brings Jean Grey to the posh castle-like building that is Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. There Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) becomes part of a team headed by shape-shifting Raven Darkhölme / Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Xavier’s adopted sister.

The team also includes Raven’s sweetheart, Hank McCoy / Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix, Jean Grey’s love Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), the German Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Boarding their aircraft from an underground facility, they fly out from under the basketball court which folds out of the way. Their current mission sends them into space for the first time.  NASA’s shuttle is in trouble and six astronauts must be saved. When Dark Phoenix and Nightcrawler go back to save the one astronaut they almost missed, Dark Phoenix is left behind. A glowing pink solar flare overtakes the shuttle and Dark Phoenix absorbs it, causing her body to glow.

Dark Phoenix is retrieved semi-conscious, but the team is able to return to Earth with honors. Xavier justifies the risk because this way world sees the mutants as helpful heroes, but Raven is uncomfortable with Xavier’s decisions to put them at risk, particularly after almost losing Jean Grey.  Raven turns to Hank; she wants to make a break from both Xavier and the school, but Hank convinces her to stay. The team members are also teachers in a school that doesn’t seem to have any dating protocol for its staff so one has to wonder who chaperones the mutant kids.

We soon learn that the solar flare was actually some type of cosmic force that amplifies Dark Phoenix’s telekinetic and telepathic powers. She becomes powerful enough that Xavier can no longer enter her mind (“For the first time, I can’t penetrate her mind.”), and she also is able to break free from some of Xavier’s mental boundaries that he built to protect her. An incident at the school causes Dark Phoenix to flee, worried that with this new power she might hurt the ones she loved and she runs to someone she used to love.

Outside of the school campus, her moments of rage and pain with her augmented power cause destruction and that begins to turn public opinion against the X-Men and all mutants.

And, the power makes her useful for the aliens led by Vuk. “If I can control that power, we can begin again and resurrect our race.” Vuk and her tribe of aliens must vie with the government forces as they search for the X-Man and other mutants.

Jean Grey looks for sanctuary at an island paradise called Genosha where Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is the leader of a community of mutants. Magneto is the former best friend of Xavier but like Hank he was in love with Raven. Jean Grey’s trail of destruction and Raven’s fate will bring Magneto and his new tribe to the US in pursuit of Jean Grey and the Vuk-led aliens.

The main events of “Dark Phoenix” occur a decade after the end of the 2016 “X-Men: Apocalypse.” Yet none of the X-Men are married which differs from the Avengers and thus we don’t have the emotional pull of family. The time jump from the “Apocalypse” is used to explain the established romantic relationship, but we still don’t feel the nuanced layers of romance. The reason behind the alien invasion and their exact numbers is never explained and so the conflict seems contrived.

Yet I can’t judge the overall emotional build and the music that would set the mood because at our press screening we had additional lights and a fire drill alarm that initially the audience thought was part of the movie. Talk about a buzz kill although, of course, that’s not as bad as an alien home invasion. This is not as satisfying an end emotionally as “Avengers: Endgame” and Wolverine fans will be disappointed that he doesn’t make an appearance, but “Dark Phoenix” clears the way for the next movie: “The New Mutants,” scheduled to be out in 2020.





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