In 1975, eight-year-old Jean Grey (Summer Fontana) accidentally uses her telekinetic powers to cause a car-crash that kills her parents. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) takes her in, blocks her bad memories, and helps her to control her psychic abilities.

In 1992, a distress-signal is heard from the Space-shuttle Endeavour, damaged in a solar flare. The X-Men, who are now well-respected by the public, save the astronauts, but Jean (Sophie Turner) absorbs the flare. Her powers greatly amplified, and the Professor’s mental blocks destroyed, she accidentally attacks the mutants at the school. She travels to her childhood home in Red Hook, NY, after discovering that her father is still alive. The X-Men try to retrieve her, but she injures Peter Maximoff /Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and kills Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), along with several police officers.

Jean tries to hide out in the mutant refugee island of Genosha but is turned away by Magneto (Michael Fassbender) after she threatens to kill U.S. soldiers. She meets Vuk (Jessica Chastain), a shapeshifter from an alien race called the D’Bari, who explains that the cosmic power which destroyed her planet is the same that now possesses Jean. Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), tormented by grief at Raven’s death, joins forces with Magneto and the mutant refugees to kill her. Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) loves Jean still.

The X-Men confront Magneto. Vuk reveals that taking Jean’s powers away would kill her, but secretly she wants to use her powers to conquer Earth. All the mutants are captured by troops and sent to a mutant containment facility, but the train is attacked by Vuk and the D’Bari. Jean takes Vuk to outer space and kills her, then vanishes and the Phoenix appears. The school is renamed the Jean Grey School with Hank as the head. Xavier retires to play chess with Erik in Paris, and the Phoenix appears in the sky.

The story is from The Dark Phoenix Saga comic book by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. The film follows X-Men Apocalypse chronologically but might take place in an alternate universe. Unfavorable reviews call it anticlimactic and wonder why it was made in the first place, though the top-notch cast was praised, along with Hans Zimmer’s music.

Spider-Man movies have angst; X-Men movies have pathos. Early in the story, I found myself getting a bit restless. There was a lot of pain and sorrow and regret on the part of just about everyone. Characters that I had admired as literally superhuman, like Professor X, were making terrible mistakes and failing each other. Perhaps this is a major theme in superhero stories as it was in stories of their predecessors, the Olympian gods. I was looking for release, to see decisive action being taken, to see the characters I admired to use their strengths in a good cause, which in comics as in SF, is usually to defend the world entire from cruelty and evil.

Well, I got that in spades with the climactic battle between the mutants and the aliens on board a speeding train in the dark of night, with ordinary humans little more than collateral damage, like lost-world explorers at the feet of battling dinosaurs. In the best such Marvel climaxes, the heroes use their varied powers in combination, with dramatic and surprising results that make you laugh out loud. This was one such climax, and it ended with the literal apotheosis of Jean Grey as the Phoenix. As is often the case, I don’t know why the movie got so much flack. I would hate to think it’s because so many women were main protagonists.

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