As the Disney/Fox merger has now begun its empire, there remains one last X-Men film in the Fox pipeline — unless we ever get to see “The New Mutants” — before Disney completely reboots the series — save for Deadpool — and incorporates them into the MCU. Now, after countless delays, reshoots and production gossip, “Dark Phoenix” is finally here. Although “Phoenix” isn’t quite the disaster some have already pegged it to be, it’s still a hollow and aggressively unspectacular film.
After the much-maligned “X-Men: The Last Stand” tarnished the beloved “Dark Phoenix” storyline, we get yet another go-around of the classic story, this time with a little more care.
During a rescue mission attempting to save a ship of stranded astronauts, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and the X-Men crew are sent to save them, however during the mission, Jean absorbs a solar flare, which increases her powers to devastating new heights. Shortly after the mission, Jean learns a dark secret about her past which causes her to turn against the X-Men.
After a rather engaging first act, the plot momentum in “Dark Phoenix” grinds to a halt, stranding the actors in a story with nowhere to go, and a film that has nothing original to offer.
The smaller scale is a welcome addition, the darker tone is a nice surprise and the first act surprisingly delivers some wrenching moments, but once we get past those moments, the film practically gives up on any significant emotional depth.
Longtime “X-Men” producer and screenwriter, Simon Kinberg, doesn’t exactly shine in his directorial debut. Although some of the action set-pieces are competently made – the climactic train sequence is surprisingly tense and rousing — Kinberg fails to add any interesting flair behind the camera. The shot composition is rote and uninteresting. Most character exchanges are given the generic “shot, reverse shot” treatment, and something most first-time directors frequently abuse, the constant “extreme close-up” of an actors face, attempting to signify further, unspoken depth when in reality, there isn’t. It’s something Kinberg does often and it rarely ever adds anything to the story.
Sophie Turner gives an exceptional performance as Jean Grey. She and Fassbender get an intense moment of conflict early on that feels more substantial and heavy than anything else in the film. Turner does everything she can to break out of the wooden script and she does come out fairly unscathed, but she’s not enough to completely transcend the material.
James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are given very little to do. Professor X and Magneto are two characters that have carried the franchise along through countless films and here, they don’t even get proper character arcs.
The criminally underutilized Jessica Chastain is, Vuk, a Shape-Shifting Alien looking to harness Jean’s powers to destroy all mankind and create a new world. Chastain’s character is such an afterthought, I can’t even remember if the character’s name is mentioned a single time in the film.
Jennifer Lawrence, one of our generations great actresses, is again visibility unhappy to be here; painfully phoning in another performance as Mystique. Nicholas Hoult’s Beast is given some of the characters most compelling work in the franchise, but even those moments are few and far between.
“Dark Phoenix”, in large part, lacks the passion and creativity the previous films brought. While there are a handful of memorable performances and action sequences, this is a film void of individuality. None of this is helped by some incredibly flat and corny dialogue that includes one very cringe-worthy F-bomb.
The X-Men continuity is known for being a jumbled mess, but “Dark Phoenix” doesn’t even try to solidify itself in any timeline. “Phoenix” takes place 9 years after the events of “Apocalypse”, but none of the returning actors are shown to have aged at all. No reference is made to any other film in the series. The entirety of “Dark Phoenix” feels like it was made on auto-pilot.
The biggest takeaway from “Dark Phoenix” has to be the mesmerizing score from the always reliable, Hans Zimmer. Zimmer’s score single-handedly elevates most of the material. In fact, this might be one of the top scores Zimmer has produced this decade (anyone familiar with his work knows that’s quite a feat).
There really isn’t much to say about Dark Phoenix, which might be the most damning thing of all. Most actors are giving all that they have, but the materiel simply isn’t there. As an entry in the X-Men franchise it’s neither the best nor the worst. As a modern superhero blockbuster, it’s largely forgettable and as the finale of Fox’s X-Men franchise, it’s underwhelming at best.