Quick fact check, do you know that Simon Kinberg, the director, producer and writer of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, co-wrote X-Men: The Last Stand back in 2006 with Zak Penn? And that Dark Phoenix is the last of ‘Fox-driven’ X-Men movies? In other words, Dark Phoenix is the final chapter of Fox’s X-Men franchise which started way back in 2000. It’s the last of its kind, before the baton being handed down to Marvel Studios for a complete reboot, sometime in the future. Now, the film does significantly feel larger than it initially seemed to you, isn’t it?
Dark Phoenix’s timeline takes place 9 years after the events of X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) with Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) seemingly building up the fragile fabric of trust between humans and mutants. For those who are new to the franchise, mutants simply mean humans with varying special abilities. Some possess terrifying powers, while others just happen to have an ugly face.
To preserve and hone that temporary peace that humans and mutants are sharing, he sends his team of mutants, dubbed the X-Men, to space as a response to a stranded space shuttle with surviving astronauts. Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) leads the mission alongside notable fellow X-Men, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Hank McCoy/ Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Scott Summers/ Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Ororo Munroe/ Storm (Alexandra Shipp). Least do they know about the cosmic force that awaits them during the rescue mission, which finds its way into Jean and turns her into Phoenix. Their paths cross with Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who has gone into exile after the defeat of Apocalypse.
First and foremost, there are contrasting feelings that I had about Kinberg’s appointment as the director. At one end, he’s such a veteran to the X-Men franchise, perhaps second only to Bryan Singer, who had produced, directed and wrote several X-Men films himself. On the other end, Kinberg made his directorial debut with Dark Phoenix. Quite a risky assignment, if you ask me.
Let’s start with what I felt is right with the film. The stars of the day, are none other than McAvoy and Fassbender. This holds predominantly true for McAvoy, where you can feel a significant difference in character between the young Professor X during the initial flashback and his older, 1992 version. Fassbender is still a splendid and befitting Magneto, even with Dark Phoenix being his fourth film into the X-Men franchise. But still, there’s one treatment towards Magneto that the crew really screwed up, which I will go into detail later.
Events of Dark Phoenix unfolds against a backdrop filled with plentiful of dark, somber color palette, which I found to be very stylistic. The film is unmistakably serious, which gives it the much needed separation from its peers, like Captain Marvelor Guardians of the Galaxy. That’s one aspect which made me constantly appreciating the X-Men franchise, and forgiving the lackluster service of humor offered in its films.
Of course, being a superhero film released in 2019, it is foreseeable that Dark Phoenix is churning out one of the most impressive visuals and CGI’s of late. The ‘energy cracks’ radiating from Jean’s face in this film is a nice update from Famke Janssen’s otherwise horror-centric looks in X-Men: The Last Stand. Just one note: do not confuse between visuals and choreography, because, within Dark Phoenix, those two terms certainly don’t work hand in hand.
If it doesn’t surprise you yet, this marks the end of the great things that I can say about Dark Phoenix. By far, the biggest, disease, if I may call it, that has been plaguing the film from the start is the questionable script. It was designed to be followed by an obedient group of audience with no questions asked. Which, you and I know doesn’t exist. Thus, the more dwelling it involves into Dark Phoenix, the murkier the story becomes. Don’t be shocked to walk out of the cinema when the credits roll, but still not knowing what actually turned Jean Grey into the most powerful mutant on earth.
The questions that arise don’t necessarily have to do with the story it’s trying to tell. Sometimes, it’s just as simple as wondering whether a certain scene or a dialogue line should be there. Because, believe me, some of them have no purpose. Okay, if I have to be harsher, those make no(n)sense. It’s okay if you don’t believe me now. You will after seeing a walking Professor X.
Inherently, with the existence of such elements that begs to be filtered out from the final cut, it made their effort to squeeze Dark Phoenix into 114 minutes looking like a laughable job. Not taking into the account of the brief flashback about Jean’s past, the X-Men shoots themselves up to space quicker than you can say “Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters”. The first act revs and zooms with Quicksilver-speed, only to tumble as it stepped into an ultra-stretched second act that traps you into a time-loop. Still, will the final conflict come in and save the day?
Well, the crew behind Dark Phoenix won’t. And they can’t.
I mentioned ‘they won’t’ first, because there are a lot of factors which falls under their control but left unattended. Remember the ‘Magneto treatment’ that I’ve touched earlier? Instead of making Magneto an unpredictable villain, which will synergize in perfection with Fassbender’s iron-cold stares, they put him into the same wash cycle again and again. This “Magneto-abruptly-changed-his-mind-and-helps-Professor-X” statement is getting old and tiring, it should have stopped one or two films ago.
Marvel Studios realized that with the case of Hulk. Kevin Feige knew that people will soon get tired if Bruce Banner turns into an overpowered green monster and smashes things each time he gets angry. So you have things like ‘intelligent Hulk’ or ‘childish Hulk’, and even, a Hulk that won’t come out at all in Avengers: Infinity War. Sadly, Fox’s X-Men just can’t foresee that, and that broken record gets carried over, even into this final film.
Besides that, the attention to smaller details of the film was not really there. Yes, perhaps you could recognize the brown long coat worn by Jean for most of the part. It’s about the same as what Famke Janssen wore during The Last Stand. And that eerily familiar neighborhood of Jean’s old house? Checked. Perhaps the most shocking recycling act that occurs in Dark Phoenix is when Jean rises up in the air, while being surrounded by glowing energy. That ‘crystallizing energy’ sound effect is unmistakably plugged from Captain Marvel. And when you trace that with reports that Dark Phoenix have to be re-shot to erase off similarities with a recent superhero film, it becomes increasingly clear. Cosmic powers absorption. Shape-shifting aliens. Wiped memories. Sounds familiar?
As you put the final pieces together, it formed into a third act that’s far away from being capable of saving the film. Unexciting action choreography, together with that weirdly unrealistic CGI of lightning put out by Storm, makes for an already messy final conflict that now feels dated, as if it belongs in the 2000's.
As to why ‘they can’t’, that, is even a sadder story. It has to do with the unfortunate release date of Dark Phoenix. Fans have always been afraid that Dark Phoenix might end up being the doppelganger of The Last Stand. But least do the world expect that the film will materialize as an indirect copycat of two more Marvel films. Yes, with only four and two months separating Dark Phoenix with Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame respectively, it’s hard to blame any audience who claim that they have seen it all. The similarity between the film and Captain Marvel is too apparent to be masked with any type or re-shoots. It can’t be said that it’s directly similar to Endgame, but you know the true powers of Jean Grey in Phoenix form, right? Key word: disintegration.
While X-Men: Dark Phoenix is Simon Kinberg’s first class and Fox’s last stand, it is far from fulfilling fans’ dream of seeing a grand and deserving closure to the 19 year old franchise. It’s not even clear whether true fans should cry over Dark Phoenix for messing up with the franchise which they always loved, or simply, bored to tears. If, miraculously, you have not seen any of Fox’s X-Men films until now, then the decision is simple. Stay away from Dark Phoenix, because if you want a good Marvel superhero movie, you know where to look for. — The Film Addict
Originally published at https://www.thefilmaddict.com on June 12, 2019.