Superhero sequel X-Men: Dark Phoenix fails to take off or catch fire

Damon Smith watches as Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) comes face to face with her alternate personality in the comic book sequel X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Andrew Stehlin, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tye Sheridan, Nicholas Hoult, Kota Eberhardt and Michael Fassbender in X-Men: Dark Phoenix
Damon Smith

X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX (12A, 131 mins) Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Romance. James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Michael Fassbender, Brian d'Arcy James. Director: Simon Kinberg.

Rating: 2 stars

DON'T be afraid of the Dark Phoenix. The 12th film in the sprawling X-Men series, which has largely disappointed except for the deliciously irreverent and brooding double whammy of Deadpool and Logan, is a disjointed gallop through genre tropes and predictable narrative twists.

There are plenty of tears on screen but not a single droplet from us as super-powered characters make bold sacrifices for people they love and writer-director Simon Kinberg unleashes a blitzkrieg of spectacular but soulless action sequences to test on-screen alliances to breaking point.

Two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain is squandered in a pivotal but thankless supporting role as an otherworldly puppet master, who intends to eradicate mankind from the third rock from the Sun.

Jennifer Lawrence is also poorly served as a blue-skinned mother hen of the dysfunctional brood but she does pickpocket the film's best line, a #MeToo-era battle cry which defiantly draws attention to the importance of xx chromosomes in this fantastical world.

"The women are always saving the men around here. You might want to change the name to X-Women," she snarls.

Digital effects run riot in a bloated second act that delivers carnage on a grand scale with almost no emotional payoff.

Nine years have passed since the events of X-Men: Apocalypse when Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) unlocked the devastating telekinetic powers of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner).

The X-Men are now on speed-dial to the White House, ready to answer a call from the US President (Brian d'Arcy James) to rescue the stricken crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which is spinning violently out of control after a close encounter with a solar flare.

Mystique (Lawrence) leads the rescue mission, shepherding the special powers of Jean, Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters).

During this heroic feat, Jean absorbs dangerous levels of energy and the near-death experience unleashes years of pent-up rage and frustration.

A shape-shifting alien (Chastain) exploits Jean's inner turmoil to rebuild her species' fallen empire.

"It's your destiny to evolve into the greatest force on the galaxy," the scheming extra-terrestrial informs Jean.

Meanwhile, an increasingly disillusioned Mystique questions Professor X's duty of care to his young wards, who routinely risk their lives while their mentor observes proceedings from a safe distance using the Cerebro machine at his mansion.

Set in 1992, X-Men: Dark Phoenix doesn't greatly enrich the series mythology, delivering one expected shock that ignores events from X-Men released in 2000 and its sequel.

Turner works hard to channel her beleaguered heroine's confusion and despair in the few brief moments of quiet contemplation between overblown set-pieces.

She may rise like a flaming phoenix but Kinberg's film never takes off and certainly doesn't catch fire.

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