Dark Pheonix Review: Dark times for the X-Men franchise
While it might be the end of the Fox’s take on Marvel’s X-Men, Dark Phoenix lacks the build, context, development, and pretty much anything else make it a worthy and satisfying end.
The film follows the X-Men after one of their own, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), comes in conflict with a cosmic force after they attempt to rescue astronauts in space. Once they return, the team realizes that there’s a growing power within her that’s more powerful than anyone can imagine. Struggling to control her power and finding out a truth that Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has been hiding from her, Jean is pretty much a ticking time bomb of power that causes a mysterious figure (Jessica Chastain) to attempt to unleash it and give the X-Men a foe that can change their fates forever.
The problem with Dark Phoenix’s desire to be this crazy and fulfilling finale is that this “prequel” series has spent no time setting up half of its characters, including Jean Grey, so there’s no emotional connection to any of these characters. There’re small attempts to create some empathy towards these characters through Jean and Cyclops’ (Tye Sheridan) romance, the connection between Jean and Xavier, and constantly reminding viewers that they are all a “family.” However, none of these attempts work because none of this has been built for more than two movies so its impact isn’t strong in the slightest. The only relationships that carry any real emotional weight with them are between the four veteran characters: Xavier, Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult).
Their performances and relationships are great as usual and I actually felt a connection to it because I’ve been with them since X-Men: First Class. McAvoy and Fassbender are still great and they constantly carry their respective characters differing ideologies and still have great chemistry with one another. Hoult and Lawrence also have excellent chemistry and there’s a strong emotional weight to their relationship that I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. I’ll even say that all of the performances for some of the newer characters in the series are solid and they get their moment to shine. Sheridan is solid as Cyclops and his care for Jean seems genuine, Alexandra Shipp is solid as Storm even though she isn’t given a lot to do, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is great as Nightcrawler and he’s one of the stronger elements of the action sequences, which are pretty solid themselves. Although, if you’re going into Dark Phoenix wondering what cool things Evan Peters is going to bring as Quicksilver, prepare to be disappointed.
Even Turner does what she can with Jean Grey, but the writing and lack of development makes her struggle to make her be anything special. The film attempts to make her seem like a ticking time bomb, but the film moves so fast that there’s little to no suspense or anticipation that surrounds her character. Even her brutality has very little impact and is restrained because of the film’s PG-13 rating. Honestly, if it went for the R-rating, we could’ve gotten a more horror styled presence around Jean and could’ve allowed for her to have a stronger, more intimidating presence than she does here.
Speaking of a lack of presence, Chastain’s villainous character is incredibly pointless to the film and is just shoved into the plot. There’s very little depth given to her character’s alien background and what is given is so bland that you almost wish they wouldn’t have even delved into it. Not to mention, her performance is less than remarkable and she almost seems like she is just trying to get to the next scene so the movie can end quicker, but it hard to blame her because there’s very little for her to even do.
What hurts more than anything, though, is how lame, distasteful, and lackluster the ending is and the lack of care given towards it is remarkable. Not only does it feel completely lazy and leaves no impression, but it actually breaks a solid amount of continuity placed from the other films. It’s honestly sad to see a film that should have an ending that’s as strong as the Dark Phoenix storyline is in the comics and that should encapsulate the end of an era be as pitiful as it is. There’s no grand message on what their journey has meant and it’s one of the most remarkable lack of understandings of material that I’ve seen in recent time.
The X-Men franchise is what started it all for comic book movies and it’s disappointing that this iteration of the franchise has to go out on such an insignificant note. Throughout the film, you can tell that everyone is trying to elevate the material, but unlike a true Phoenix, nothing worthwhile rises from its dim ashes. Worst of all, it can’t even respect its own material or fans enough to have a legacy-worthy ending that elicits any emotions other than shameful anger.
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