Time once again for my periodic hobby: being completely confused about the timeline of the “X-Men” movies.
The new one, “Dark Phoenix,” begins in 1975 and continues in the ’90s. That puts it kind of in the middle of the “X-Men” saga, depending on which alternate-narrative thread you’re pursuing.
The contortions of time wouldn’t matter that much if the movie were any good. It’s not. The X-franchise, a generally entertaining series dating back to 2000, hits its lowest point since “X-Men: The Last Stand.”
This one brings back James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as those warring mutant leaders, Dr. Xavier and Magneto. Curiously, they cede center stage to Jean Grey, a powerful telekinetic mutant played by underwhelming “Games of Thrones” star Sophie Turner.
Jean has a tragic childhood prologue, set in the 1970s, involving a car accident. The car radio plays “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” — oh, the hilarity of a funny reference embedded in a scene meant to be traumatic.
The film gets off one sharp sequence near the beginning, as the Xers intercept a Space Shuttle mission being menaced by a solar flare or something. This is a rare moment where, instead of wrestling with their angst, the mutants actually go about fighting global crime.
In a very half-baked way, “Dark Phoenix” tries to ride the female-forward wave of superhero movies, with a poster that looks an awful lot like the “Captain Marvel” ad, and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, looking for the exit) chiding Dr. X about how the women are carrying the team. They should be called the “X-Women,” she says — do I hear another alternate timeline in the making?
There’s something almost heroic about the way writer-director Simon Kinberg manages to turn every scene into a showdown of bad dialogue. Most of the returning characters — including Nicholas Hoult’s Beast and Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops — speak only in chunks of flat-footed exposition.
Or maybe I should call them Hank and Scott. The film never refers to the characters with their X-Men names, because it’s too serious to want to sound like a comic book.
Too bad; the original “X-Men” pictures understood the humor of having superpowers. Here, Jean Grey is stretched out on a cross at one point, in case we missed the grim nature of her sacrifice.
There are some outer-space villains, one of whom takes the form of Jessica Chastain. Her name is Vuk, which I’m pretty sure I said to myself a few times during the movie.
She’s one of those villains who do an awful lot of talking instead of going about the business of destroying the world. When the destruction comes, the mayhem is reasonably impressive, although with Jean Grey’s unmatchable powers, there’s not much suspense about how it will turn out.
The “X-Men” franchise has survived rough patches before, and maybe it will again. Time for Dr. X to snap his fingers and declare that this storyline was actually all a dream. Where’s Wolverine when you need him?
“Dark Phoenix” (1½ stars)
Newly empowered Jean Grey (played by the underwhelming Sophie Turner) takes center stage during an alien invasion, in this grim “X-Men” chapter. Between the clunky dialogue and the half-hearted performances, this feeble entry should be consigned to its own alternate timeline. With James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender.
Rating: PG-13, for violence
Opening: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Seattle 10, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox Drive-In, Cascade Mall