[Early Review] Dark Phoenix (2019)

Director: Simon Kinberg

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg

113 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language.

 

Dark Phoenix may very likely be the last installment of this iteration of the X-Men franchise. We may never see The New Mutants, so this is our swan song, or Phoenix song, to the franchise. It’s almost fitting that it’s the first installment to be directed by longtime franchise writer Simon Kinberg, but is he able to send out this franchise on a high note?

It’s 1992, and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Split, Sherlock Gnomes) has aged remarkably well (seriously, trace the amount of time spanned between First Class and now), and his work with human/mutant relations have made him a bit of a mutant celebrity among politicians. His team of X-Men, led by Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games, Red Sparrow) have saved countless lives. When he sends them on an outer-space mission to save some stranded astronauts from a deadly solar flare, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, Josie, TV’s Game of Thrones) is caught in the trajectory of the flare and should have been killed, but when they return her to Earth, she appears fine. At least, for a little bit. They soon learn that something is very wrong with Jean. She is unable to control her power, which has spiked significantly since her incident in space, and secrets from her and Charles’s past are coming back to haunt them both. Now, the X-Men face their greatest threat in one of their own, and it’s a fight they may not walk away from.

Reviews are hitting Dark Phoenix pretty hard, and the signs have been clear for some time that this was not going to be the big explosive finale to the Fox X-Men Saga (an entire year of pushbacks do not exactly inspire confidence, even if there was good reason), but I think the backlash is a little excessive. Dark Phoenix is not a bad X-Men movie. The biggest problem is that it’s somewhat soulless. It doesn’t really make me feel one way or the other. In a way, it feels like Kinberg and Fox dug themselves into a hole by redoing the Dark Phoenix Saga, a storyline we’d seen played out on the big screen in X-Men: The Last Stand. If you’re going to do redo a storyline that you’ve already covered in the same franchise, you better make it damn good. It can’t be just okay; it needs to show the audience why redoing it was the right call, and while Dark Phoenix is a better film and a better version of the story than The Last Stand, it still isn’t that much better. It’s a perfectly okay film.

The movie just lacks a lot of soul. The only area where its style really works is in its score from Hans Zimmer (who came out of superhero score retirement for this film), and he crafted a score that feels very apocalyptic and sets the tone of the film more separate from the extravagant scores of the previous X-Men films. Other than his music, there just isn’t anything of flair to the film. Things just happen, and plot points don’t feel very surprising or shocking. Things just happen. The best part of the film happens to be the finale, something was entirely reshot and revamped during the reshoots. It’s an excellent-looking action set piece but again, it lacks enough story at that point.

McAvoy and Fassbender do just fine with the material given to them, as does Sophie Turner, coming off Game of Thrones, as Jean Grey. It’s nice to see her get some major screen time here, but again, her scenes lack narrative tone. I also have to mention Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, Tolkien), who has the best scene in the film in a deeply emotional conversation in the kitchen. On the flipside, it was quite obvious that Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t give a shit about this franchise anymore (it was quite obvious in X-Men: Apocalypse), and it’s all the more apparent in this installment. With that, Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Molly’s Game) is utterly wasted in the film as Vuk, a shapeshifting alien who, along with her cohorts, are essentially plot devices. It’s too bad, because, again, if you’re going to get Jessica Chastain, give her something to do. I feel as though Vuk is an overly-complicated villain without any backstory or reason for being in the film, somewhat of a paradox.

From all that, though, the stars of the film being McAvoy, Fassbender, and Turner, I got enough enjoyment from this installment to give it a “meh” as a recommendation. It’s neither good nor bad, but for fans of the X-Men franchise, there should be enough enjoyment in Dark Phoenix. We should also remember that, if one is marathoning the X-Men series chronologically, then Logan comes last, which is a blessing, because Logan is a far better finale to this hit-or-miss series than Dark Phoenix.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United, click here.

For my review of Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, click here.

For my review of James Mangold’s The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse, click here.

For my review of Tim Miller’s Deadpool, click here.

For my review of David Leitch’s Deadpool 2, click here.

For my review of James Mangold’s Logan, click here.

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