The film’s original title, “X-Men: Dark Phoenix,” has been officially shortened to just “Dark Phoenix.” More than a marketing move, it’s an indication of what’s ahead — the ultimate girl fight, in which men are outmuscled, outmaneuvered and pretty much kicked out of the way.
“Maybe you should change the name to X-Women,” says Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), teasing Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) after the females on his team take the lead in rescuing some astronauts during the film’s first action scene.
It’s not just a joke; it’s the setup to the rest of the story, which eventually leads to the genre’s requisite all-out battle between two immensely superpowered entities. This time the combatants are women, each more potent than the collective might of the men supposedly there to help them.
Phoenix is the nickname given to Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) after she’s nearly killed by a mysterious burst of solar energy during that mission in outer space. But she’s not left unscathed: The energy burst inhabits her, leaving her unable to control her telekinetic powers. Things around her start exploding.
Realizing she has become a danger to everything and everyone near her, Phoenix takes flight.
The movie’s ads would have us believe that the bulk of the story is about the team trying to track down and — if necessary — kill Jean before her dark side does more damage. That does happen, with Magneto (Michael Fassbender) leading a cohort that seeks to eliminate her, while Xavier and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) marshal a group hoping to save her. But while watching a little X-Men-on-X-Men combat is kind of fun, the whole “we’ve got to stop Jean” subplot lasts 20 minutes, if that.
The main story line involves a group of superpowered aliens who have been chasing the solar power surge across multiple galaxies ever since it destroyed their planet. Led by all-powerful Vuk (Jessica Chastain), it doesn’t take them long to connect the dots to Jean. While their respective supporters do battle on a lesser plane, Jean and Vuk square off in a winner-takes-all battle.
Apparently there’s a law in Hollywood that these confrontations must be as destructive as possible. This one takes place in New York City and involves everything from subway trains to buses. Do we sense an anti-mass-transit vibe here?
Turner, who joined the franchise in 2016 for “X-Men: Apocalypse” but is better known for playing Sansa Stark in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” has the “don’t even think about messing with me” aura down pat.
Chastain’s Vuk comes off as frighteningly heartless and soulless; she reports the destruction of her home planet with as much emotion as if you’d asked her the time.
As for the pacing, the story moves along briskly. The special effects are adequately splashy; they’re entertaining but don’t bowl you over — a description that applies to the movie as a whole.
This is the 12th film in the franchise. Normally, this far into a series, filmmakers don’t worry about bringing viewers up to speed on characters and their backgrounds, figuring audiences consist almost entirely of repeat customers. But director Simon Kinberg — either because he’s new to the director’s chair (he did produce several earlier installments) or he was concerned that Turner’s presence would attract an influx of “GOT” devotees — does a surprisingly good job of explaining who’s who without interrupting the flow of the narrative.
That said, beyond Turner there’s not a lot to make non-fans race to buy tickets. It’s another solid chapter in a franchise that continues to chug along by providing what its fans want. There’s nothing more than that here, but, the good news is, nothing less, either.