“Dark Phoenix”

 

            The latest X-Men extravaganza is a feast for the comic book superhero fan.  It begins innocently, with an 8-year-old girl riding in a 1970's car with her parents, who want to listen to a song by Glen Campbell, “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” (yes, we get the ironic title).  But the little girl discovers she has the mental capacity to change the radio channel from the back seat, so she does.  This causes her mother, the driver, to be distracted by changing the radio station back, and, you guessed it....car wreck (the first of many crash scenes).  The little girl, now orphaned, has to live with the grief and the guilt, and grows up to be, not surprisingly, a conflicted young woman.  Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is grateful for the “gifted” people who took her in and raised her, but when she finds out they lied to her about a critical detail, she abandons them and seeks truth elsewhere.

            Meanwhile, the X-Men are enjoying a particularly co-operative relationship with the United States government, and when a space shuttle gets into trouble shortly after entering the stratosphere, it's the X-Men who get called to go rescue the astronauts.  Except when they arrive there, they discover that there is a powerful force field assailing the American space shuttle.  We're told it's a spark of the energy field that created the universe.  (We'll leave the implied theology to the professionals.)  Jean Grey gets zapped with the energy field, and it strengthens her, but it also makes her able to resist the blandishments of her old X-Men team, and wander off in search of her new identity.

            It doesn't take long for a group of aliens cleverly disguised as ordinary humans to find Jean Grey, and begin courting her to come over to their side, against the X-Men.  What they fail to tell her is that they also intend to take over Earth and populate it with their race of beings, by eliminating the humans.

            So, once we've established the save-the-world scenario, we're ready to do battle.  The special effects are remarkable, even down to the accompanying choreography.  With all the instrospection about deciding what kind of person you're going to be, it begins to sound a bit like “Star Wars” meets “Paradise Lost,” but Director Simon Kinberg keeps us close to the action sequences, so we don't have to think too much about the metaphysical.  Those who are not familiar with the particular characters, or their special attributes, only have to wait a while, and all the X-Men will get a chance to show us their stuff.  It's just that some will turn out to be more effective than others.

            Director Kinberg also knows how to end with a winsome, charming scene, after the smoke clears from all the carnage, in which two would-be protagonists seem to settle their differences over a friendly game of chess.  Wouldn't that be a good way to resolve conflict?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association