Jean Grey begins to develop incredible powers that corrupt and turn her into a Dark Phoenix. Now the X-Men will have to decide if the life of a team member is worth more than all of humanity.
Poor X-Men. Despite helping usher in the new era of superhero blockbusters with 2000’s X-Men, the franchise never really gained the respect that something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe so effortlessly did with just a few movies.
And it’s not difficult to see why with the alternating quality of ups (X2, First Class, Logan) and downs (Origins: Wolverine, Apocalypse).
But where does Dark Phoenix fall?
Closer to the downs… much like X-Men: The Last Stand, the previous movie that dealt with Jean Grey’s cosmic powers. In fact, Dark Phoenix has many of the same problems as The Last Stand, even sharing several thematic, visual and storytelling elements.
First time director Simon Kinberg certainly tries his best to add depth and dimension to the story he first helped write in 2007 but being stuffed with too many characters, uninteresting villains, unintentionally funny scenes and intriguing yet underdeveloped ideas leads for this second version to fall into all other sorts of issues.
The great original cast that includes James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult which started strong on X-Men: First Class and remained that way up to even Apocalypse, sadly appear to be going on fumes here with the exception of the always reliable Fassbender and McAvoy, with Lawrence and Hoult given very little to do beside being blue and angry most of the time.
Also, as a tiny aside, it’s always bothered me that these movies started in the 60’s and jumped ahead by a decade in each entry ending in the 90’s here, only for the main cast to look almost identical. I was unaware that everlasting youth was also a part of every mutant.
One aspect Dark Phoenix does much better is, well, the Dark Phoenix herself, Jean Grey. Sophie Turner is given the most developed role as this is very much her story, convincingly conveying the inner and outer struggle Jean is going through trying to comprehend her new powers.
But it looks like the issues stem from an overstuffed script trying to deliver many (interesting) plot threads that are ultimately not developed enough and forgotten in favour of “cool” visual effects shots.
The best example of this is Magneto’s, which presents interesting and complex ideas, with the villain/anti-hero running a refugee island for mutants that want to live in peace. But the thematic notion of a former World War II camp prisoner forced to live in a refugee island in order to protect his kind is never explored more.
Further, how did a character like Magneto, who has fought for the rights of Mutants in all previous films, just be complacent with that arrangement? This type of inconsistent characterisation of the superheroes we’ve come to know in the last 4 films affects almost all the main characters.
Similarly, during the third act the team takes a strange turn into almost violent sociopaths, massacring an alien race they knew nothing about 20 minutes ago. A race that we as an audience are asked to have a smudge of sympathy for after their plan is revealed… despite them continuing to act like evil, heartless bastards.
Speaking of the alien race, their leader and our main antagonist is portrayed by the ever talented Jessica Chastain, in the extremely thankless, wasted, cliched and boring kind of “I will steal your power and rule the Earth because why not” bad guy. The character is so unimpressive that even remembering the character’s name was difficult (Vuk, and I had to Wikipedia that to be sure).
All of this leads to a climax that just suddenly deflates like a whoopie cushion with lots of empty loud noises and flashy images, limping to the finish line instead of giving us a powerful final swan song for the X-Men.
Movies like Avengers: Endgame and Logan proved to be so successful because they had years and films of buildup to reach their conclusion whereas this iteration of Jean Grey was introduced just one movie ago and despite Turner’s talents and worthy performance, we just never had the time invested in this character to really care when she changes.
With the comic book saga being known to be one of the most massive and epic story lines in Marvel history full of alien races, cosmic superpowers and even the total destruction of a goddamn star, Dark Phoenix seems like a wasted opportunity for not taking advantage of this to go out on a massive scale while incorporating a deeply personal and character driven plot, which is what it thinks its doing.
Rather, the scale remains small and unambitious with characters and stories that are severely under cooked, marking an underwhelming finale to this iconic franchise.
After almost 20 years, the X-Men saga comes to an end not with a bang nor even a whimper, but a shrug. Offering some entertaining action sequences and visual effects along with admirable performance by Sophie Turner and some of the original cast, Dark Phoenix is plagued with too many issues, leading to another disappointing retelling of the classic comic book saga and a sad final note on an influential franchise.