DARK PHOENIX

There is something that feels antiquated about the X-Men franchise now. The first film came out in 2000 and kicked off the modern comic book craze that we know today. Now, 19 years later, the landscape has changed dramatically, with large, sprawling universes by Marvel and DC being the norm. As X-Men and the Fantastic Four were owned by 20th Century Fox, they were literally the only two outliers not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Well, that era is officially over now with Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox. Disney obviously has plans to reboot the mutant team for their own franchise, so with Dark Phoenix, we’re at what’s probably the last film in the current X-Men film franchise. For a series with such a checkered history, let’s hope it goes out on a high note. 

In the world of the X-Men, everything is going hunky dory as our favorite team of mutant superheroes do their typical superhero stuff. During one routine mission in space, telekinetic X-Man (X-Woman?) Jean Gray (Sophie Turner) inadvertently absorbs a whole bunch of solar energy, but to everyone’s surprise, it doesn’t kill her. Instead, it makes her far more powerful, giving her a whole host of dangerous new superpowers at her disposal. Jean finds out from evil alien Vuk (Jessica Chastain) that she has been given the power of the Dark Phoenix, a cosmic force with the ability to destroy entire worlds. As Jean struggles with her new powers and internal conflict regarding it, Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) view her as a threat and team up yet again to take her down. 

Dark Phoenix is the directorial debut of Simon Kinberg, who co-wrote X-Men: Days of Future PastX-Men: Apocalypse, and… X-Men: The Last Stand. Yes, this is Kinberg’s second attempt at the Dark Phoenix saga, one of the most iconic comic book story arcs of all time. Revered by many, a lot of fans felt it wasn’t done justice at all, and I don’t see them being too satisfied here either. I’m really ambivalent on the overall franchise, as it’s had varying range in quality, and didn’t even see Apocalypse, but this story doesn’t feel like a “next step” in the story, or anything like that. It just feels like an obligatory, “Well, we don’t have any more story arcs. Let’s try Dark Phoenix again.” They always have been, but this one really feels like a “making it up as we go along” type movie. I’d say the final act reshoots are evidence of that. 

I haven’t read the comic book arc itself, but I know its general plot and it’s expectedly full of comic book silliness. There’s a big cosmic element to the story and I was surprised they incorporated that here, but just like everything else in the film, it’s not sufficiently developed. This film is barely longer than The Last Stand, clocking in at only 113 minutes, but there’s so much more plot to cover, it causes everything to feel glossed over. You hardly feel Jean’s struggle, the conflict between Professor X and the team, the motivations of the villains, and characters that don’t get to do much other than participate in some action scenes. The character beats are there, but the plot is so scattershot and contrived, they don’t hit as hard as they should. Some plot developments are laughable in how they try to move the plot forward and it all just feels like a much longer movie that was chopped up in the editing room. 

The one thing that’s basically required for a story like this to work is an actor that’s able to show the internal conflict and struggle through their range. Unfortunately, Sophie Turner doesn’t have it. She’s mostly wooden and any time she tries to emote, like being excited about her newfound powers, it just comes off as stilted and forced. Honestly, most of the younger X-Men aren’t that great, especially Tye Sheridan, who’s now typecast as the guy with stuff covering his eyes. At least McAvoy, Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, and surprisingly, Jennifer Lawrence were all great. It actually seemed like Lawrence cared here and did a great job, but maybe she was just relieved her contract was finally up. McAvoy and Fassbender don’t get as much screentime together as you’d hope, but they had that classic chemistry with the sense of comradery and conflict. The final scene in the film between them is actually pretty sweet and a nice way to cap off the series. Jessica Chastain plays the main villains here and she’s so underwritten, she may as well have not been there. She definitely gets to ham it up, though, which was fun to see her do. 

While the plot was too scattered and moved too fast in terms of developing any sort of meaningful emotional connection, I have to admit, I was very entertained throughout. The breakneck pacing really keeps it from being boring, and it was fun to see the various scenes of the X-Men fighting together. There’s a lot of great showcasing of various members powers, especially with Magneto. He’s the total MVP here and kills baddies in a variety of brutally metallic ways. Lots of impalings here and there, and that’s not all. The film is surprisingly violent with a lot of light blood that’s suggested or takes place off screen. There’s even an f-bomb, which I didn’t expect at all. Aside from one action scene during the nighttime, where I had no idea what was going on, the action is very well staged and creative. There were many moments where a mutant would utilize their powers in a unique way, where I often thought, “That’s pretty cool.” It’s a shame that Quicksilver, the coolest characters, gets only one short scene and gets sidelined for the rest of the film, though. The CGI was also pretty stellar, which this series has had a dodgy history of. Maybe they were just pulling out all the stops. 

Since Dark Phoenix is the potential final installment of the X-Men series, it does kind of feel like the end of an era, like the bygone era of 2000’s comic book flicks finally coming to an end. It even has a Hans Zimmer score that sounds right out of Batman Begins. As a resolution, it’s not very satisfying, like Avengers: Endgame, but it’s an entertaining enough comic book film on its own to recommend. Sophie Turner doesn’t do enough to really carry the film, but the rest of the cast is pretty stellar and their solid chemistry during the creative action scenes more than made up of the shortcomings. Not the best comic book film, but certainly not the worst. Pretty much sums up this inconsistent franchise perfectly. Maybe it as an appropriate conclusion, after all.

5.5/10

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