X-Men Dark Phoenix (2019)
20th Century Fox
Directed by: Simon Kinberg
Written by: Simon Kinberg
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp and Jessica Chastain
It’s never ever been a really great franchise. X-Men just didn’t seem to ever be able to cut it the way Disney’s Avengers did, yet of the two properties, X-Men always seemed the more interesting. Sure Avengers had the big characters behind it, but X-Men were a real team, that started as a team, and finished as a team, yet Dark Phoenix is such a dud, it’s almost hard to review it.
Perhaps it’s superhero fatigue, perhaps it was just very poor production choices, but the box office for the last X-Men movie proves that the general public may have just about had enough of this sort of fare. I would argue, that even if Dark Phoenix was an above average X-Men movie, with a blistering script, stellar performances and the most amazing special effects ever, that it would still have under performed.
With X-Men being bought by Disney, the final of the current incarnation of the team decided to have another pop at what is probably one of the most famous story lines ever, and that may have been the mistake here. First of all, The Dark Phoenix Saga may have been a big deal for the comic fans of the day, but it probably doesn’t mean much to the great cinema going public that would struggle to understand why a story that they have seen before was being done again. On top of that, the X-Men timeline is so hard to follow, that casual audiences would struggle to connect the dots with the characters involved. I still struggle with finer points, and i’ve seen them all.
Next in line is the lack of Wolverine, who is probably the best known X-Man ever, and if you don’t believe that do a quick survey of everyone next to you just now, by asking them to name the X-Men, and see who gets named first. So that’s all problematic, before the film has even been released, so imagine the apathy when the film gets reviewed very badly after it’s early showings. And it had some bad early reviews. Very bad. They damaged it’s opening weekend, and sadly condemned the last stand of this franchise into movie memory hole.
I saw the film on the first Friday of it’s release and the screen was barely half full. As the first act unfolded with the meeting of Jean Grey and Professor X after a car accident in 1975 with young Jean’s parents, I could already begin to see the cracks. The first act, and the second for that matter, are very slow. When things do pick up with the X-Men being sent into space to save astronauts from a big energy cloud, we see Jean absorbing the energy that transforms her into Dark Phoenix, and once back on Earth, she starts to act strangely raising concerns with her team mates. All the while Prof X has decided the best way to keep a harmonious relationships between humans and mutants, is to become a glory hogging socialite, a sub plot that feels out of character altogether.
Meanwhile in another part of town The Skrulls, I mean the D’Bari, have come to Earth searching for the energy Jean has absorbed, as they want it for themselves, or something. Skrulls and D’Bari, they are pretty much the same, and in this production serve only to confuse the plot and provide something to fight in the 3rd act. With Jean on the run after the accidental death of team mate Raven, she looks to the communal home of Magneto for sanctuary but that doesn’t work out either. Magneto, who is surprisingly young looking for his age now, knows something is amiss, and when the military show up at his mutant haven, Genosha, things go from bad to worse. Comic fans who may have been expecting an island paradise rendition of Genosha would have been disappointed to see Magneto and his brotherhood living like a cult in a dis-used spare car lot, where on Earth did the budget for this film go? Reshoots I imagine.
Despite the X-Men being unable to find Jean, everyone else in the script seems to do it with ease, and in the final act, the cast are conveniently captured and trapped aboard a train heading to a containment center. The train is ambushed by the aliens, who seem to have all kinds of super abilities, before Jean and Professor X have a mind chat that allows Jean to control the force, destroy the D’Bari, then fly off into space.
It’s a mess folks, and worse than that, an unsatisfying end to a franchise. There’s so much that feels half baked, the direction is bland, the characters are dull, the plot is badly executed and there is very little here that even die hard fans would rejoice at. The Dark Phoenix actually never gets a chance to do much damage, and I don’t understand why the stakes were kept so low. This was a finale, but it was so weak, it felt like a filler. Even the renaming of the Xavier School to the Jean Grey school felt twisted, surely they should have name it after fallen comrade Raven, who died at the hands of Jean?
Had the film gone the Logan route, I would have had more respect. Imagine a Dark Phoenix movie that was R rated, and given the chance to really let loose. Sure the comic book story would have been lost, but an earth ravaged by Dark Phoenix, an X-Team desperate, hunted and yet still trying to fight to save and/or stop their former team mate, with Magneto ruthlessly trying to avenge the death of hundreds of mutants wiped out by Jean, and trying to harness the power for himself.
There is so much potential wasted by bland story telling, un-imaginative set pieces and a pandering to cliche that has ultimately failed. Comic book movies beware – you can’t just throw any old rubbish out there and rely on the fan base to support it. For the genre to survive, you will have to be better and smarter than this, or the wheels on this gravy train are going to snap off faster than Quicksilver’s cameo in this tired depressing dumpster fire of a movie.