It makes sense for writer/director Simon Kinberg to utilize the Phoenix to end Fox’s X-Men franchise, but unfortunately, X-Men: Dark Phoenix comes across as a clunky conclusion that doesn’t necessarily do Marvel’s mutants justice.
After a mysterious accident, Jean Grey’s (Sophie Turner) telekinetic powers, and her ability to control them are, to quote Beast (Nicholas Hoult), literally off the charts. Not even her adopted father Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is enough to keep her under control, and as her power levels spike, she learns that her beloved Professor has been keeping secrets from her trying to keep her safe. An uncontrollable bag of emotions and raw power, Jean Grey takes it upon herself to find the truth no matter the consequences. A victim of her new power, Jean is a prime target for manipulation, and Jessica Chastain’s mysterious character has her eyes set on harnessing the power.
Full of awkward dialogue and eye-rolling moments, the script is likely the film’s biggest detriment. Unfortunately, no one in the cast really shines here because they’re not given much meaty material to work with. Michael Fassbender is as compelling as ever as the vengeance-seeking Magneto, but even his performance is weighed down by the irrational things his character does. The biggest crime in the movie was probably the squandered use of Jessica Chastain. Without spoiling too much of her role, I’ll just say that Chastain, who is usually a powerful performer who oozes charm, is forced to deliver such a dry, one-note performance that it’s hard to stay interested in anything she does.
Xavier has always been a controversial character in the comics and on film, but Dark Phoenix seemingly goes out of its way to make him unlikable. James McAvoy does a fine job, but Xavier is framed as a manipulative egomaniac who has trouble admitting his own mistakes throughout the film, so it’s hard to see why so many young people look up to him on a one-to-one basis. Sure the character grows throughout the film, but it’s shocking to realize that someone who cares so much about helping people is still so manipulative and self-absorbed after everything he and his team have been through.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s a feeling of “Avengersization” over this entire movie. Instead of being feared and ostracized, the uniformly costumed X-Men are treated like celebrities and even have their own action figures for screaming fans. Xavier, one of the most powerful and manipulative men on the planet, has constant alone time with the President even though just a few years earlier he and his team were considered scum and potential terrorists. At one point in the movie, Xavier giggles at his team receiving the label superheroes, which is appropriate because I was constantly giggling at how awkward and poorly written this superhero movie is.
For any fans of the classic Phoenix storyline that the film is loosely based on, prepare to be disappointed (again). The Phoenix is depicted as an uncontrollable cosmic force that alien species want to harness, but beyond a few basic beats, like Jean absorbing the Phoenix’s energy while on a mission in space, this adaptation is wholly its own beast. Instead of truly delving into what the Phoenix Force means or how it slowly corrupts people’s minds, it’s treated as a typical MacGuffin that can destroy planets.
While the format for the newest X-Men movies makes for some interesting backdrops as audiences follow them through the decades, it also means a lot of character development happens off-screen. The relationship between Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has blossomed into something more serious and it’s clear that they fantasize about a life together, but it’s not really explored in-depth, as it’s just alluded to in obvious ways. Magneto is now leading a state of exiled mutants and taking on a protector role, something that’s only explored for a few minutes before he is quickly whipped back into a vengeance-filled frenzy. Even lesser known X-Men like Dazzler are some of the most emotionally compelling characters in the comics and each of them have complex relationships with one another, but unfortunately, people who primarily know them through these movies will never understand that.
There are a few cool action sequences, but the fights usually come across as choppy and messy instead of memorable. Not only does each brawl have too much disorienting camera movement, but they are also typically accompanied by fast cuts that make it difficult to understand the geography of any of the group battles. The various mutants each get a moment to let their powers shine, but for a group of kids who learned to fight and grow together, they don’t really seem to act like much of a team in the field. Instead of bouncing off each other, the team simply talks about working together while coming across as a scattered assortment of individuals in action.
The X-Men are fantastic characters and I can’t wait for whatever Jonathan Hickman is cooking up for them at Marvel Comics, but it’s hard to think of one saving grace in this film. There are a few moments and shots that are nice, but unfortunately, Dark Phoenix just comes across as a hastily made mess. As the final film in a sprawling cinematic saga, Dark Phoenix sees them leave the big screen with a whimper instead of the big bang they deserve.
Final Score: 4/10