By Tom Augustine
For a film series that has long since outstayed its welcome, the latest in the very first superhero saga – X-Men: Dark Phoenix (dir. Simon Kinberg, rated M) – seems to be in an awful hurry to wrap things up. The culmination (and likely finale) of the film series that began long ago with X-Men in 2000, and has seen actors and storylines come and go (with the occasional time-travel retcon here and there) is a zippy little thing that nevertheless seems bursting at the seams and sagging with the weight of a series that just can't seem to end, already. Returning to ground covered in the much-maligned X-Men: The Last Stand, this film follows the X-Men as they face one of their own, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, who does well to hold the whole thing together in a cast of sleepwalkers) when exposure to cosmic rays gives her immense, uncontrollable powers.
One gets the impression from Dark Phoenix that the film-makers are trying to make up for the "sins" of that previous film, but this one commits too many of its own in trying to play it safe to fare any better. Packed with actors who seem desperate to simply run out their contracts (particularly Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique and Evan Peters as Quicksilver, whose brief appearances here may as well have featured them picking up their paychecks), the action itself is at least solidly entertaining and occasionally even thrilling. Indeed, there are moments of inspired genre film-making that occasionally elevate the whole operation, boosted by a reliably bombastic Hans Zimmer score. The inclusion of a nonsensical and unnecessary alien subplot slows things down enormously, and there is little in the way of catharsis or a sense of an ending here – if it is to be the end of this iteration of Professor X, Magneto, Cyclops and the like, they've gone out less with a bang than a whimper. Rating: Two-and-a-half stars.
Also in cinemas
The problem with the fledgling mega-monsters series that began with 2014's Godzilla, followed by Kong: Skull Island and now the woebegone Godzilla II: King of the Monsters (dir. Michael Dougherty, rated M) has never been the monsters themselves. The series has always had the ability to deliver agreeably epic visuals of titanic monsters ripping into each other in giant tableaus like something out of a Bosch painting. No, the problem with this series has always been the characters running around the monsters – the human element that somehow takes up so much of the filmmakers' concern and yet remains so very boring. Godzilla II picks up sometime after the first appearance of everyone's favourite rotund super-lizard, and largely follows an estranged family (Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown) as the actions of an eco-terrorist cell revive a coterie of long-dormant giant monsters hiding beneath the earth. Globe-trotting without feeling like it gets anywhere, packed with quips without being funny, and featuring muddy, messy action devoid of excitement, Godzilla II is a mostly pointless in-between instalment before the inevitable King Kong/Godzilla showdown to come. Rating: Two stars.