"Dark Phoenix" rises and possesses some moments of greatness, but it's an X-Men movie that should burn even brighter.
Directed by Simon Kinberg, the new, PG-13-rated film is the final chapter in the 19-year-old X-Men movie series (well, at least until Disney, which now owns the "X-Men" property, reboots the franchise in the near future). For the most part, "Dark Phoenix" thinks it can, and it often does. It just feels like some movie magic is missing.
As it stands, "Dark Phoenix" is a bit like an origin story for the title character, Jean Grey (Stophie Turner). Viewers can see and hear how Jean Grey comes to possess her supernatural, wildly powerful abilities. Turner is convincing as the tormented hero, who wrestles with her identity and frequently seems uncomfortable in her yellow-and-blue X-Men suit. The only thing Jean seems 100-percent sure of is her love and respect for her X-Men colleague, Scott/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan).
After Jean gains additional powers, she starts piecing together parts of her past. Most of these moments work in "Dark Phoenix," although the Kinberg's story should give viewers a little bit more. Fleshing out the presence of the sometimes-evil Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and sprinkling a few more pinches of humor into the mix would have helped.
Also returning alongside Fassbender is Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique, who has grown suspicious of the motives of the founder and leader of the X-Men, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). Raven begins to suspect that Xavier's overprotective nature of Jean Grey is overcompensating for something else — possibly a secret that even those closest to Xavier are left in the dark.
Other cast members in "Dark Phoenix" include Nicholas Hoult as the cautious, faithful Hank McCoy/Beast; Alexandra Shipp as the bad-girl-turned-good-hero Storm; Evan Peters as the fast-moving, fast-talking Quicksilver; and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the space-traveling Nightcrawler.
Jessica Chastain and Ato Essandoh also are captured by Kinberg's film cameras — and are almost unrecognizable — as the calculated, spooky villains, Vux and Jones, respectively. When Vux and Jones do engage in a stand-off against the heroes, it's a segment that is tense, unique and absolutely one of the high points both in the film and all of "X-Men" Land.
As seen and felt in the previous "X-Men" entries, the cast is excellent with terrific chemistry and charisma. The actors play off each other as if they really are the super-powered individuals they are portraying, which helps keep "Dark Phoenix" from falling flat on the ground.
Just like Marvel Studios probably will never top their crowning achievement, 2014's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," filmmakers will have a mighty high mountain to climb if they want to match or beat 2011's "X-Men: First Class" and 2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past." But that certainly doesn't mean "Dark Phoenix" lacks any superhero power. It has power. It just needs a bit more super in its bones.
Final grade: B+