REVIEW: X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Theatrical Release Poster – 20th Century Fox / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The following is a review of X-Men: Dark Phoenix — Directed by Simon Kinberg.

“You’re always sorry, Charles, and there’s always a speech. But nobody cares anymore,” is the line that is going to be cited to oblivion in reviews of the final Fox-controlled X-Men film, Simon Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix. It is a line uttered by Fassbender’s Magneto-character, and, even though it certainly is in-character, it almost feels like unintentional self-directed criticism on the part of the writer-director. Or, perhaps, one might suggest it speaks to our collective disinterest in these films after Days of Future Past and Logan successfully bid farewell to that era of superhero filmmaking.

As is made painfully clear, one of the actors doesn’t even care anymore, so why should audiences? It hasn’t helped that X-Men: Apocalypse left a sour taste in people’s mouths. And the fact that Disney can now shoehorn the X-Men into their wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe whenever they see fit surely hasn’t helped in bringing new audiences to the long-running X-Men film series. Fox’s X-Men is a tired film franchise and that quote perfectly encapsulates the way many feel about these films.

It is, admittedly, really harsh to brush off this film and ignore it, but nothing about this blockbuster event film feels ‘essential’ or ‘necessary.’ Even though I adore the source material and many of the actors and actresses in the cast, I never felt the urge to rush to the theater on opening day. Nevertheless, it almost felt like a superhero movie fan was obligated to watch this movie, and that, more than anything else, is what eventually made me get to a local theater. Having seen it, I can say that it feels like a chore and that it is an insipid, anticlimactic, and lifeless sequel that doesn’t properly say goodbye to characters that we’ve loved for so long.

Like 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix is an adaptation of the comic book storyline known as ‘the Dark Phoenix Saga.’ Dark Phoenix takes place in 1992 — nine years after the events of X-Men: Apocalypse and thirty years after the events of X-Men: First Class — at which time the X-Men are now beloved. Professor Xavier (played by James McAvoy) has a direct phone line to the President of the United States, civilians love the X-Men, and his students and teachers are frequently called upon to solve issues for the world.

Things take a turn, however, when Mystique (played by Jennifer Lawrence) takes an X-Men team with her to space in an attempt to save the astronauts on the space shuttle Endeavour, which has been damaged and sent into a spiral by a solar flare-like energy force from outer space. When an overconfident Xavier ignores Mystique’s warnings and directs Jean Grey (played by Sophie Turner) to risk her life to save the captain of the shuttle, Jean Grey is put in harm’s way. She is then struck by the solar flare and temporarily sidelined.

This solar flare messes with Jean’s mind and brings back memories that Xavier tried to hide from her. Feeling betrayed and manipulated, an unstable and super-powered Jean Grey — now nicknamed ‘Phoenix’ — leaves Xavier’s school to find answers that will undoubtedly hurt her. When the X-Men and Jean next meet up, Jean Grey makes a mistake that she cannot run away from, thus breaking the X-Men from within and destabilizing the relationship between mutants and homo sapiens. Meanwhile, a shape-shifting alien race has made its way to Earth, and they all want to find Jean Grey and harness her unlimited power.

Dark Phoenix, thankfully, does not outstay its welcome. But, even with Simon Kinberg behind the wheel, Dark Phoenix is, at its best, the X-Men film series on autopilot. It is an apathetic failure of a film. The film includes a somewhat contrived message that we’ve already seen done much better in another superhero movie this year. Furthermore, Dark Phoenix features wild character inconsistencies, character arcs that, bafflingly, are eventually abandoned, a narrative that seems to blatantly disregard previous films as well as series continuity, and surprisingly dated and unconvincing visual effects momentarily.

Simon Kinberg impatiently and bafflingly rushes through the plot without properly explaining things that desperately need to be established for the film to work. Select scenes, wherein super-powered individuals — specifically Magneto and Jean Grey — fight over control of an object that they are attempting to guide using their powers, are framed in a way that just looks silly, and, in these scenes, Kinberg puts capable actors in positions where they will not inspire anything else than unintentional laughs. I think Kinberg honestly lets his cast down here.

Michael Fassbender does whatever he can to bring some gravitas through in his frustratingly thin role. Jessica Chastain is wasted in her tedious and thinly drawn role. James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult both try to their hardest to make their characters work but to limited success. Jennifer Lawrence clearly doesn’t care anymore as she sleepwalks through the material. It would be wrong to say that Sophie Turner doesn’t care, but Kinberg doesn’t give her much of weight to perform. This isn’t the star-making turn that Turner would’ve wanted it to be, but it shouldn’t derail her career at all.

There is nothing exciting about Dark Phoenix. It is a joyless, apathetic, and bland X-Men film. It moves impatiently without actually setting up the events, or explaining them, properly. It doesn’t inspire any strong emotion. Dark Phoenix never made me happy, sad, or angry, and nothing about the film was particularly interesting or bold. Simon Kinberg’s directorial debut is a stale superhero movie that you’ll forget about the moment you leave the theater. The Fox X-Men film series lasted for 19 years. It deserved a much better conclusion. But, like Magneto reminds us, nobody cares anymore.

4 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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