WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Dark Phoenix, currently in theaters.
Fox's X-Men franchise comes to an end with Dark Phoenix, which tells a tonally uneven version of Marvel Comics' seminal "Dark Phoenix Saga." But while the film can be confusing at times, it does have one real strength.
Writer/director Simon Kinberg's film features some genuinely creative and memorable action set pieces, with the members of the X-Men given moments to show off their abilities. Between surprising duels, frantic rescues and outright creativity, the action in Dark Phoenix is arguably some of the best in the entire series.
THE SPACE MISSION
The first major sequence of the film involves a NASA shuttle losing power in space. With the vessel threatened by a wave of radiation (later revealed to be the Phoenix Force), the X-Men rush off to rescue the astronauts. Despite the distance between the shuttle and the X-Jet, the team manages to use a number of their powers to close the gap and save some lives. Even before they reach the shuttle, Storm uses her powers (in space!) to freeze closed the damaged parts of the shuttle. Cyclops then loads himself into a giant scope, blasting out like a laser-eyed sniper rifle, shooting a malfunctioning part of the ship to prevent it from spinning it out any further.
To actually make the jump over to the shuttle, Nightcrawler and Quicksilver prove to be a very efficient duo. After Nightcrawler teleports them over, Quicksilver quickly explores the ship and finds as many astronauts as he can. He brings them back to Nightcrawler using his super speed, getting everyone into physical contact with the teleporter in seconds. A quick tap on the shoulder gives Nightcrawler the heads up he needs to BAMF back to the X-Jet. It's not often that the X-Men films have actually shown the team rescuing people, so the sequence is a fun quick bit of heroics from the group.
THE STREET FIGHT
After Jean receives the powers of the Phoenix and accidentally kills Mystique, the remaining X-Men end up arguing over what to do with her. While most of the team wants to help her, Beast and Magneto elect to kill her. Arriving with Red Lotus and Selene, the group is confronted by Xavier, Cyclops, Storm and Nightcrawler. What follows is a surprisingly brutal battle across the city street, with each Mutant managing to show off their powers in surprising ways. Beast leaps around the area, easily the biggest physical threat in the fight. But, he plays a minor role in the overall battle, as the rest of the mutants quickly pair off into surprisingly creative duels.
Red Lotus and Storm battle around the street. They receive occasional assists from their allies (like Cyclops blasting Red Lotus from behind while he's trying to choke Storm), but for the most part, they duel one-on-one. Red Lotus is surprisingly quick, allowing him to keep up with Storm even as she flies around and shoots ice and lightning at him. Selene and Xavier quickly enter a psychic duel. But, the fight isn't in their minds: It's to control Nightcrawler, who Selene is trying to get near her so she can slit his throat. It provides probably the only laugh in the sequence, when an exhausted Nightcrawler tells Xavier, mid-teleport, that he is "not okay" with this.
The most impressive part of this fight, though, is easily Cyclops vs. Magneto. The fight turns out not to be nearly as one-sided as one would expect. While Magneto throws objects at him and creates shields from all the metal around him, Cyclops is quick-thinking enough to counter him. He uses an often underutilized comics ability -- his intuitive sense of spatial geometry -- to reflect a blast off multiple cars to strike Magneto.
He dodges and dives around, avoiding attacks while still blasting. He even manages to almost overpower Magneto's shields before Beast attacks him and Magneto pulls a train out from underground to use as a blockade. For such a fast fight, it actually has a lot of really quick and fun beats that help it stand out from other superhero movie brawls.
THE TRAIN BRAWL
While the inevitable climactic battle between the X-Men and the D'Bari was predictable, and the story leading up to it robbed it of agency, director Simon Kinsberg still found a way to throw in some creative moments for the mutant heroes.
Storm finally gets the chance to unleash her full power, blasting the D'Bari crawling around the train with lightning. Nightcrawler eschews his typical pacifism, picking up a knife and dispatching multiple D'Bari with his powers. At one point, he even stabs one in the throat with his tail. Magneto uses an entire armory, making good on the set-up he did all the way back in the first X-Men and using his powers to fire 20 guns at once.
While Dark Phoenix is flawed from an objective standpoint, it still manages to makes the X-Men and their powers feel like the most fun they've been since X-Men: First Class.
Directed and written by Simon Kinberg, Dark Phoenix stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters and Jessica Chastain.