Movie Review: Dark Phoenix

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dark phoenix.jpg

1.5Stars

PG-13 |

by Jason Koenigsberg

Well, they finally did it. They finally made a really bad X-Men movie. This is coming from a critic that liked X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and X-Men: Apocalypse (2016). Not only that but this is the second time in the movies franchise where they have butchered the much beloved Phoenix Saga. After nineteen years the X-Men movies have gone through some highs and some lows but none have ever been as incompetently bad as Dark Phoenix. This film marks the end of an era since it is the last Fox produced X-Men movie since now the studio is owned by Marvel/Disney. All the way back to Bryan Singer’s original X-Men (2000) these films have always been released through 20th Century Fox and much like Star Wars they both bowed out from Rupert Murdoch’s empire and became part of the Mouse House. Speaking of recently disgraced director Bryan Singer, he really should be the only person to direct X-Men movies since three of the four he directed are the three best films of the franchise, those being X-Men, X2: X-Men United (2003), and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). But he was busy getting fired from last years Oscar darling Bohemian Rhapsody and the studio went with writer/producer Simon Kinberg making his feature film debut… Mr. Kinberg should stick to his day job. 

The opening shot is some lazy narration about destiny, a title card reads 1975 and then the first image shown is a radio dial in a car. We see a young Jean Grey and in a quick pre-title segment learn how she met Professor X and joined the X-Men. In nearly two decades of X-Men movies, none have had dialogue this boring. Their special effects have been hit or miss over their previous films but they are incredibly unimpressive in Dark Phoenix which is unusual considering that they had so many opportunities to make cool visuals with the Phoenix being one of the most iconic images in the series. A huge missed opportunity. There was no interesting Phoenix imagery, just a lot of yellow and orange plasma waves and cracks in Jean Grey’s face as she got mad. There are really only two images of the Phoenix in the film, they both come in the final ten minutes and neither one is clear or ominous in a haunting way. Dark Phoenix also messes with the continuity of the X-Men movies, which is nothing new, but really stood out likely because everything else about this film is so inept. The flaws in logic and how this tampered with previous movies stood out and was more irritating than when they occurred in previous films like X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and Days of Future Past

This film is filled with talented actors but you would never know it if this was the first movie you saw any of these acclaimed performers in. Jennifer Lawrence has never been less enthusiastic in a role and she was also given the lamest of lame girl power lines telling Professor X (James McAvoy) “You should change the name to X-Women”. McAvoy’s version of Professor X in Dark Phoenix was part egomaniac, part father figure, and part imbecile since it was his decision at the beginning that created all of the problems that the X-Men face throughout the movie. The beautiful and talented Jessica Chastain was horrible. She has never been misused in a film this badly playing a villain that was probably intentionally meant to seem wooden and emotionless but looked and sounded too silly to take seriously. But the most unfortunate aspect of Dark Phoenix with regards to the acting is Sophie Turner as Jean Grey. Poor Sophie Turner. Most of the country already hates her unfairly for taking part in the disappointing final season of Game of Thrones, well she was a better Sansa Stark than she is as Jean Grey. She is not really ready to take on the lead role in a major movie and since the entire plot revolves around her character evolving and learning to control and harness her new powers she is stuck in a thankless role that does not get the nuance and gravitas that it should. 

But perhaps that is not Sophie Turner’s fault since all of the other actors are pretty forgettable in their roles even though they have been masterful before as the same characters especially Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique and Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender as Magneto. The shoddy direction from Simon Kinberg does not help. He was obviously in way over his head and had no original vision for these characters and this story other than to get from point A to point B and add in computer effects when applicable. Most of the other X-Men like Storm, Beast, and Cyclops were relegated to roles of standing around and spouting off dialogue such as “I cannot contain her” and other throwaway lines as they fight Jean Grey. A real loss considering that Cyclops is her romantic partner in the film and their love was only thrown in as a plot contrivance as it was needed. It never developed into something real that audiences could sympathize with. All of the character relationships in Dark Phoenix are inferred from previous movies, none are properly developed in this movie. Shame on the director and screenwriters for assuming people should accept this as respectable entertainment. 

Even worse, major plot points were ruined in the trailer so moments that should have come as a surprise do not. Dark Phoenix is a lot of bloodless violence with no casualties other than one major character which was seen in the ads. That character dies in the first act and sets off a chain of events for the rest of the film. But the real villain should have been Professor X because of his ill-advised decision making in the first action sequence as the X-Men rescue US astronauts in space. The consequences do not matter much in this movie and that probably is a reflection of the director and producers. Dark Phoenix marks the end of an era with the Mutants at Fox. This movie was probably just a paycheck for a lot of people involved and this franchise will likely get the reboot treatment by Disney in a few years. For the franchise that started the comic book surge, the Stan Lee cameo tradition, and made Hugh Jackman an international star, X-Men deserved a better final chapter than this. 

Skip Dark Phoenix and see X2: X-Men United without a doubt one of the best in the series and it hints at the Phoenix Saga which was mishandled in the next film X-Men: The Last Stand… but was still much better than Dark Phoenix. 

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