Sophie Turner’s steely Lady of Winterfell, Sansa Stark might have been one of the best things about Game of Thrones. But the British actor can’t save the latest X-Men movie Dark Phoenix from total disaster.
A dull snooze lacking spectacle, it does the unthinkable and makes 2006’s much-maligned X-Men: The Last Stand look marginally better in retrospect.
The feature debut of long-term series writer-turned-director Simon Kinberg, Dark Phoenix is a tired re-hash of that previous film’s central premise. Although Turner is talented, she has almost nothing to work with here.
Failing to learn from the stalled reboot of Spider-Man starring Andrew Garfield, which saw the web slinger battle the Green Goblin again, Turner re-plays the corruption of mutant superhero gone bad Jean Grey, as previously realised by Famke Janssen.
An incredible telepath far stronger than her mentor Professor X (James McAvoy), her considerable powers are boosted far beyond her control when she is apparently killed by a flame-like cosmic energy called the Phoenix Force during a space rescue mission gone horribly wrong.
Instead, Jean consumes the force and returns to Earth with her comrades.
There, her wildly oscillating power levels unlock a childhood trauma that turns her against the Professor and leads to the accidental death of a teammate.
That brutal loss leaves blood on Jean’s hands and she wrestles with a Lady Macbeth-like internal torture.
That should have been an emotional flashpoint. But Kinberg, also on writing duties, can’t locate the harried heart of this soap operatic tragedy.
Jean’s flight to one-time enemy Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is also flubbed in the rush. Kinberg similarly fails to flesh out the childhood flashback and its ramifications.
Jessica Chastain is also criminally squandered in the villainous role of commander of a generic alien invasion force that further distracts from Turner.
Or maybe Chastain is the squanderer. Much like Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique, she looks like she’s going through the motions for a pay cheque.
Poor CGI and minimal location work further hamper Dark Phoenix’s oddly low-stakes clash. I kid you not, there’s a pivotal scene where sidelined anti-hero Magneto attempts to kill Jean with a staircase bannister.
Even the train-set finale seems a copout compared to the demolition of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in The Last Stand.
Also missing from this re-run? Heart.
The complicated love triangle between Famke’s Jean, James Marsden’s Cyclops/Scott Summer and Hugh Jackman’s unruly Wolverine made the first two instalments of the original X-Men trilogy sing.
They felt like real adults with complicated personal lives that muddied their on-the-job heroics.
When Jean sacrificed her life to save her teammates at the end of X2, way before Game of Thrones made major character deaths de rigueur, audiences gasped at Famke’s apparent departure.
Her turn to the dark side and death at the hands of her lover Wolverine was genuinely painful even if the messy conclusion of The Last Stand undid a lot of that film’s hard-earned emotional labour.
Turner and her Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) share none of that burning desire and it’s unlikely anyone will mourn the death of this X-team now that Disney, which just consumed 21st Century Fox, has the rights to reboot these characters.
Let’s hope they inject even a modicum of originality. Or even better, call it quits forever.
Dark Phoenix is screening nationally