DARK PHOENIX: It’s not exactly a high recommendation to say that a movie turned out to be slightly better than the trailer you saw that preceded it. It’s kind of like being told that you’re the best surfer in Wichita, Kansas in that it’s a nice compliment that doesn’t come with a whole lot of value. Having said that, I think it’s fair to say that this latest installment in the X-MEN saga isn’t entirely bad or good. But its’ primary defect is that it can’t seem to decide if it wants to be the origin story of a young Jean Grey (Sophie Tucker) or something of a series finale. We first meet Jean as a child (Summer Fontana) in 1975 when her latent powers of telekinesis manifest themselves when she causes a catastrophic automobile wreck owing to her preference to hear Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves Of London” (Which wasn’t actually released until 1978.) over Glen Campbell’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”. Fast forward to seventeen years later when as one of the youthful Marvel mutants, she’s exposed to a sort of cosmic flare in space while on a mission to rescue shuttle astronauts. Suddenly, her powers, which now include mind reading, are multiplied and not in a good way when she causes massive destruction in her old childhood neighborhood that causes the death of a major character (Which I won’t reveal.) and later on brings down an Army helicopter at Magneto’s (Michael Fassbender) village commune. All of these happenings draws the attention of some malevolent, shape-shifting aliens led by Jessica Chastain (See CLOSING CREDITS.) who definitely looks like she could use some time out in the sun. This leads up to some rather elaborate sequences involving a nighttime New York City street battle where a subway crashes through the above ground pavement as well as a climactic brouhaha on a moving train. While these scenes aren’t lacking in gravitas, you begin to realize after a while that it’s the visual effects that are really the driving forces of this movie owing to the lack of an original storyline. As one who’s seen a majority of the X-MEN films, I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that this was a work that didn’t mesh with the narrative arc of the other flicks since the more mature Jean Grey character (Previously played by Famke Janssen.) was always a sort of stabilizing right-hand woman to mutant school director Charles Xavier. The strength of the Marvel movies in this particular franchise is that they’ve consistently managed to blend both comic book fantasy with psychological undertones and in that sense, DARK PHOENIX fails on both of those levels. CRITIC’S GRADE: C

CLOSING CREDITS: Here are some far better movies starring Jessica Chastain who’s one of our more underrated actresses. – CORIOLANUS (2011), THE HELP (2011)*, ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)**, MAMA (2013), A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014), CRIMSON PEAK (2015), THE MARTIAN (2015)

*Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actress

**Academy Award Nomiation for Best Actress