Dark Phoenix isn’t an epic X-Men conclusion—but it’s a darned good teen flick

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Dark Phoenix film still

Enlarge / Sophie Turner’s face often looks like it’s about to explode in Dark Phoenix. (credit: 20th Century Fox)

Arguably, the biggest shockwave in recent Marvel films and series wasn’t a snap from a comics villain but a click of Disney CEO Bob Iger’s pen. One by one, we’ve seen the reverberations of Disney’s Fox acquisition from last year, mostly in the form of Netflix series wrapping up so that Disney can move full steam(boat Willie) ahead with its own films and streaming service. This week sees an arguably bigger conclusion: the end of the latest X-Men cinematic series.

Dark Phoenix sees the rug getting pulled from under the series’ teen-reboot incarnation, which began life in 2011’s X-Men: First Class and became an overwhelming mess in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse. That last entry wrapped a bow on an apparent trilogy, but this week’s one-more-time film is a bummer for a surprising reason. Dark Phoenix starts with a glimmer of hope that this central cast could go somewhere interesting if given one more shot. Much of the film plays out like an incredible, self-contained graphic novel, with legitimate surprises, compelling intra-X conflict, and a tighter focus on relationships that the last film lost sight of.

If you’re the kind of series fan who can have your wind knocked out by a lousy ending and neatly wrapped bow, Dark Phoenix‘s best bits may not be good enough. But up until that annoying conclusion, the film does its best to redeem the half of X-Men that never had a Hugh Jackman or Sir Patrick Stewart to lean on—and the result is a pleasant surprise in a crowded superhero-film ecosystem.

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