X-Men: Dark Phoenix
Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Jessica Chastain, Michael Fassbender
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If this is indeed the final X-Men film, the series has gone out with a whimper…
When the first X-Men movie came out back in the ancient year of 2000, it made a decent case for its own existence and, by extension, the existence of big budget superhero movies in general (which were outliers at the time). It was followed up by a superior sequel three years later, X-Men 2, and we officially had an X-Men franchise! There have been ups and downs along the way – with X-Men: First Class (2011) representing a peak, and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) very much a trough – but overall the series has been solid.
Not quite at the level of Marvel Studios’ output, mind you, but respectable nonetheless. But with 2014’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past (a decent entry), the whole box and dice was reset due to some time travel shenanigans, and the series really hasn’t known where to go next. 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse did very little to steer the franchise in a fresh new direction, and now we have X-Men: Dark Phoenix to act as a sort of end point for the entire series. So, does it work? Yeah, nah, hey. Yeah, nah.
The Dark Phoenix saga is one of the most revered comic book runs in X-Men’s printed history. It involves an alien force, epic battles and personal sacrifice that spans many issues and remains an iconic story arc. It was first attempted in X-Men: The Last Stand to frankly woeful results, but since Days Of Future Past essentially rebooted the continuity, first-time director (but longtime X-Men franchise producer and screenwriter) Simon Kinberg decided that he’d have another bash. The best thing that can be said about Dark Phoenix is that it’s absolutely better than The Last Stand. That, however, is a very low bar to clear.
Dark Phoenix tells a very truncated version of the saga, that has Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbing what appears to be a solar flare during a rescue mission in space. It soon becomes clear that something has changed Jean, and she manifests power at levels that cause Professor X (James McAvoy), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) to become increasingly concerned. Add to this a weird alien conspiracy led by one-note villain Vuk (Jessica Chastain), and you’ve got 114 minutes of, well… adequate entertainment.
The problem with Dark Phoenix isn’t that it’s bad, although it is at times, it’s just terribly uninvolving. The reason that audiences were so moved during Avengers: Endgame was because they’d earned the big emotional moments, the pay-offs that felt like logical conclusions to the films that had come before. Dark Phoenix feels like it comes out of nowhere and exists solely to give everyone involved a chance to do the saga one more time, and consequently it’s all weightless.
Sophie Turner did lovely work on Game Of Thrones, but continues to be miscast as Jean Grey. James McAvoy tries admirably but is hamstrung by a truly wonky script, and Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender are quite simply wasted.
Ultimately, X-Men: Dark Phoenix just isn’t very good. Flat direction, a weak script and uninvolved performances are livened occasionally by decent action in the third act, but it’s nothing that you haven’t seen done better elsewhere. If this is indeed the final X-Men film, the series has gone out with a whimper, and it’s hard to imagine even wanting this particular phoenix to rise from these drab, listless ashes.