Dark Phoenix managed to exceed my expectations…of how mind-boggingly terrible the FOX era of the franchise could sink. In reality, Dark Phoenix could only truly reach/fall as far as fourth worst in the franchise as X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men: Origins – Wolverine and X-Men: Apocalypse have the top 3 spots on lock down.
I’ll admit to a full bias here. The Dark Phoenix saga, written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, is my all-time favorite in continuity comic book story. It’s a 17-issue epic that marks the best the genre has to offer.
In their foolhardy attempts to adapt the story and do it any kind of justice, filmmakers have missed the point completely and churned out crap hoping the X-Men fanbase would be satisfied with just mediocre enough. The most faithful adaptation of The Phoenix storyline remains the 1992 animated series, which was impressively respectful and accurate to the story. It’s crazy how both 20th Century Fox and to a lesser degree as of late Warner Bros. act like creating comic book movies that are faithful to the source material is some unattainable mountain that only Marvel Studios can scale.
OK, we’ve established Dark Phoenix is not the movie for fans of the comic book series. It’s arguable if Dark Phoenix is the film for hardcore fans of the franchise that’s existed in one form or another since 2000. More and more it’s looking like the series would have been better served ending with X-Men: Days of Future Past, which neatly connected the original cast and First Class cast while wiping Last Stand out of continuity.
Director/Writer Simon Kinberg hopes to tap the last few drops of fan goodwill for the franchise. They’re “rewarded” with an effort that frequently can’t seem to be bothered staying consistent to what’s established earlier in the film let alone anything before it. Remember at the big final battle with Apocalypse in X-Men: Apocalypse when Jean (Sophie Turner, Game of Thrones) seemingly channeled the Phoenix Force? Kinberg doesn’t, which is a problem considering he wrote that debacle of a screenplay.
Kinberg seems to be similarly confused with core aspects of the X-Men. When a spaceship is stranded, the president calls the X-Men for an assist. In this era, the team of mutants are treated like celebrities and heroes. That just goes against the entire concept of the characters who’ve always been portrayed as outsiders at best and threats to national security at worst.
This isn’t a long-term issue however. Kinberg can’t be bothered to stay consistent with his premise as a minor incident later on triggers a manhunt while law enforcement officials are armed with mutant power dampening devices as they prepare to take the team to a seemingly still operational mutant holding center. This was clearly a very loose partnership.
Dark Phoenix has to pay for the film’s obsession with Magneto, Mystique, Professor Xavier and Beast. When characters like Jean, Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, Ready Player One), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) get the spotlight it feels unearned. The emotional attachment we should have for these characters is missing because they’ve largely been background characters for so many films.
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Jean saves the X-Men from a solar flare, but she nearly dies in the incident. Gradually she’s losing control of her powers with disastrous and fatal results. Now the X-Men have to decide how best to help their friend even when she might be the most dangerous threat they’ve ever faced.
The biggest issue with the film, as was the case with its predecessor, is it’s a waste of a perfectly good cast. This is a solid group of X-Men who actually look the part and play their characters well. Marvel Studios should park the dump truck to lure James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender back to play Professor X and Magneto as it’s hard to imagine better casting for those characters.
Jennifer Lawrence was the smart one as she opted to have a limited role this time out. Even then, Lawrence’s Mystique can’t be spared from inconsistent writing and bizarre dialogue. During one of several unearned scenes, Mystique says the women are doing all the saving so maybe the team should be called the X-Women. This seemed like a random bit of pandering Kinberg threw in with the hopes of gaining some cheap support from female viewers. Poor Nicholas Hoult has to deal with some yo-yo writing of Beast while McAvoy has to try and sell a darker side to Professor X.
Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game) has a major role, but her character just serves to make an already convoluted and erratic script more confusing. It’s a tremendous waste of a performer as talented as Chastain as she can’t emote or bring anything interesting to the role. Chastain’s character is aligned with Ato Essandoh, who makes the most of a limited role, as they are the random plot devices Kinberg throws in largely for the sake of the action scenes.
On that front, Kinberg actually puts together some very well done fight scenes. The film’s signature sequence on a train showcases the X-Men’s powers in a way we haven’t seen on the big screen in a long time. It’s almost too competent to be in this movie. The shame is it’s obvious how much money and effort went in to making such a lousy movie.
Have you ever gone to a funeral just to make sure the person was dead? That’s kinda what X-Men: Dark Phoenix represented for me — the let’s make sure there’s no pulse final slog for a franchise that helped jumpstart the cinematic superhero era, but ironically never managed to evolve. Marvel Studios can’t get to this franchise and fix the X-Men fast enough.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox