This story contains major spoilers for Dark Phoenix, including a discussion of the ending.
Dark Phoenix, the latest entry in the long-running X-Men series of films, wants you to believe it's obsessed with evolution, particularly the way its mutant heroes can change and develop over time, but it's more concerned with stasis. In taking on director duties, writer and producer Simon Kinberg, who has helped shepherd the comic book series to the screen for over a decade, approaches the task of telling this story like a risk-averse brand manager, maintaining the mix of weepy melodrama and slick action the franchise is known for. It's not the worst X-Men movie -- that honor likely belongs to 2006's infuriating X-Men: The Last Stand or 2009's baffling X-Men Origins: Wolverine -- but it feels the most uninspired.
More than anything, Dark Phoenix is a missed opportunity. Given the corporate machinations and behind-the-scenes upheaval surrounding its production and release -- it's the first core X-Men movie made without the creative involvement of filmmaker Bryan Singer, who has faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, and it will be the last hurrah for these versions of the characters following Disney's purchase of 20th Century Fox, the studio behind X-Men -- this could have been a chance to upend the conventions of the series. Maybe shake things up. The success of Logan, the first comic book movie to earn a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination, and Deadpool, the money-printing meta riff on superhero tropes, should have given Kinberg some wiggle room to serve up a daring, cosmic take on one of the most beloved storylines in the history of comics.
Instead, the film, which introduces Jean Grey as a child in 1975 before leaping forward to 1992, remains tentative at almost every turn. Introduced in 2016's exhausting X-Men: Apocalypse, Sophie Turner, so effective as Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, struggles to find a compelling spin on the gifted telepathic mutant who undergoes a startling transformation after sacrificing herself during a space rescue mission gone wrong. Blessed with mysterious powers from a cloud of purple space gas, she returns home and discovers she's not exactly who she used to be.
Over the course of the movie's relatively brisk 114 minute runtime, she feuds with her protective mentor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), frustrates her romantic partner Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), kills her most loyal teammate Mystique (a comically checked-out Jennifer Lawrence), seeks out her old enemy Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and eventually teams up with a mysterious alien sent to steal her power (an underused Jessica Chastain). None of it leaves much of an impression -- and, as you'll find out below -- none of it will likely "matter" in the larger X-Men universe.