‘Dark Phoenix’ Theatrical Review
It’s a difficult task to choose a favorite Mount Rushmore of comic book series among the many available. Everyone’s favorites are different, and that is one thing that had made comics so cherished and unique for generations. I would never challenge one’s reason for their choices, but I would argue if they left X-Men off the list. There have been some great comics, but none have produced as many memorable story arcs and variety of characters as Xavier’s School For The Gifted. The X-Men have always played an important role in the history of comics. While some superheroes have grown stale over the years, the X-Men continue to stay fresh. It’s not just the stories, but how kids wanting to be accepted can relate to mutants who want the same.
The X-Men are not just important to comics, but also to the history of Super Hero films. Along with the very first Spider-man, they showed that the same magic that was found in the pages of comic books could be reproduced on the big screen. If not for the success of that first X-Men film, we may have not have been privileged to see many of the super hero films this century. The first X-Men movie was a hit. And with the success of X2, it looked like the X-Men franchise could become as much a classic on film as it continues to be at comic book shops. Having one of the larger source materials to pick from, it looked like that was going to be the case.
Sometimes though, what worked in a book doesn’t resonate for live action. While the characters of the X-Men can be replicated, the story arcs can cant always fit well into a two hour adaptation. Some of the most famous tales in the X-Men Universe can go on for multiple issues and last over a year. It’s nearly impossible to make everything, from the plot, to the different arcs of characters flow and make sense in one movie as opposed to multiple films. It is a problem that has plagued the X-Men films and as time has gone on, the less fun and imaginative theses movies have become.
Dark Phoenix isn’t just the last film of the franchise under Fox studios (The X-Men are heading to Disney and back to Marvel), but shows how trying to fit a classic saga from the comics just can’t be done in one film, which Fox has tried twice now. The film is beyond dull, with performances from actors who know how bad this clunky script is that they are just there to get a paycheck, and can’t wait to move on to their next movie. It’s not as bad as X-Men: Apocalypse and step up from Last Stand, but that is not saying much. Worst of all, the movie is not fun. As bad as some previous X-Men films were, they at least had moments that brought the enjoyment of superheroes to the big screen. Dark Phoenix is so humorless it might as well have been the funeral of the X-Men franchise. I honestly could not remember one scene that made laugh or gave some feeling of enjoyment.
We are first taken back to 1975 with a young Jean Grey in the back seat of a car on a road trip with her parents. She does not know of her powers of telepathy and keeps unwittingly changing the radio. Things take a turn as the powers she cannot control cause a fatal car accident that will haunt her later in life. At the Hospital, Professor Charles Xavier (James McVoy) takes her under his care at the school for other students like herself and promises she will always be accepted for who she is. Fast forward to 1992 where an older Jean (Sophie Turner) is one of Xavier’s best students, as well as a dependable member of his X-Men team. Since the last film, the X-Men are not only known in the world, but they are beloved celebrities. Jean, along with team members Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are sent into space to save the crew of a doomed mission. With a unknown red cloud about to engulf the ship, the X-Men only have a few minutes to save the those on board. Jean is unable to make it back to the ship and absorbs the red force called “Phoenix.” She somehow survives and returns with enhanced powers. But soon Jean begins to lose control, at the same time an alien named Vuk (Jessica Chastain) comes to Earth, and that causes even more dark impulses in Jean. The X-men must not just face an enemy they have never seen before, but face one of their own as she slowly loses herself.
The main problem is that Jean never feels like a central character. This can be blamed on the last film. In X-Men: Apocalypse she is a side character and we hardly get time to get to know her. I have never been a Sophie Turner fan, but it is unfair to have her play someone one with next to no character development, and then expect her to carry most of the following film. When something terrible happens to Jean, it’s hard to even care for her. Her relationship with Cyclops plays an important role in the Phoenix saga comic. Here, it feels more like an arrangement with Tye Sheridan than something natural. A lot of things feel forced upon the audience, and unless they are familiar with the X-Men comics, they will feel lost. It’s puzzling because director Simon Kinberg has been a part of most of the X-Men movies as a writer. He should have been able to fix these repetitive problems, but being at the helm seems to be a task too big for him. Remember in the last film Quicksilver is supposed to be Magneto’s son? They completely ignore that here.
To X-Men fans, the film becomes more frustrating because you can tell parts of the epic story have been left out. Out of a library of possible villains for this film, I can’t believe they picked one so obscure. Chastain’s character has the same personality as Apocalypse, with the only difference being she does not have to wear horrific prosthetics. The one scene that brings any type of pulse is at the end in a huge train fight where the mutants get to showcase their powers. It’s enjoyable, but considering they are fighting a creature with cosmic power, one almost feels like it should be bigger. The soundtrack from Han Zimmer is even a bore as it’s nothing but the same three notes being played.
Dark Phoenix plays exactly like a film that has been delayed a few times. It has parts that feel unfinished, and the whole story feels rushed. That’s what happens you try to tell a story that requires multiple films, but instead try and cram it into one sitting. Now that Disney has control of the franchise, they should give viewers a break before figuring out how to start anew. If one thing the MCU has proven, it’s that they know how to tell stories. The X-Men story may be too big for the big screen, and with a new streaming service for the mouse about to hit homes, having the Xavier’s mutants be a part of it would be a good start on how to fix this franchise because right now the X-Men feel obsolete.