When writer/director Simon Kinberg set out to take a second swing at adapting the Dark Phoenix storyline, Disney's acquisition of Fox and the associated sunsetting of this X-Men film franchise wasn't a done deal. When Digg published a guide to the X-Men films, it seemed like we'd be getting at least "Dark Phoenix," plus "The New Mutants" and a Gambit film. With how disastrous these "Dark Phoenix" reviews are, this could very well the last time Fox gets to make a big splash with these Marvel mutants on screen — and this "Last Stand" isn't too much better than the first:
As In The Comics, Jean Grey Merges With An Incredible Source Of Power And Turmoil Between Mutants Ensues
Dark Phoenix sees a fully realized X-Men team lead by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) – consisting of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) – go on a mission to space[…] Jean is hit by some kind of cosmic force appearing to be a solar flare. Though she manages to survive, her already incredible powers are amplified and she has trouble controlling them.
When a mysterious, shape-shifting alien (Jessica Chastain) arrives on earth determined to claim the cosmic force raging inside Jean for its own species, Xavier brokers a desperate deal to work with his old adversary Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to find the confused young woman before her powers fall into the wrong hands, or worse, grow so intense that they destroy her before she's able to learn how to manage them.
Despite Being At The Center Of The Film, Sophie Turner Doesn't Get A Chance To Burn Bright
Turner is an incredibly talented actor, but outside of a lot of sinister stares and CGI-generated powers, she's not given much to do.
It's a shame that Dark Phoenix doesn't give Sophie Turner much to do beyond wave her hands around in a power stance. There's a really interesting character in there somewhere, and one gets the sense that she never quite gets to bring her to life.
There's a whole fascinating read on the Dark Phoenix narrative—particularly in the way it addresses women and power—that Kinberg's film only limply gestures at. Mostly, Turner does the same "what is happening to me???"/"I can't control it!" scene over and over, leaving us still unsure if Turner is a star who can shake off Game of Thrones and assert her talent elsewhere. I'm rooting for her, but Dark Phoenix is so stifled, in its curious way, that its arguable lead is left in the shadows.
Most Of The Returning Ensemble Cast, Especially Jennifer Lawrence, Seem Totally Checked-Out
The other characters, including Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), are just there to serve as set dressing, and accordingly, most of them give performances as wooden as the mahogany furniture lining Xavier's mansion.
Too many of its veteran key players seem to have checked out — particularly Jennifer Lawrence, who's all but holding her luggage in her handful of scenes — and the flimsy character development in Apocalypse does precisely zero favors for the remaining stars forced to the front lines.
James McAvoy Does Get One Last Chance To Give Patrick Stewart's Professor X A Run For His Money
McAvoy is still great as Xavier. But maybe a few of those scenes of him pondering the state of the X-Men could have gone to more screen time for Turner — you know, the person playing the title character.
Only James McAvoy expands on his performance as all-knowing shepherd-commander Professor X. But that's because he's actually asked to play new shades of the character: intriguing chords of manipulation and hubris run through Dark Phoenix's version of Charles Xavier, which McAvoy communicates with his usual nuanced intensity. His scenes, when Xavier stubbornly digs in his heels and insists his way is right, show what kind of psychologically complex movie Dark Phoenix could have been had there not been all this rush to just get it done.
Jessica Chastain's Mysterious Character Turns Out To Be… Just A Totally Forgettable Villain
Chastain plays a character with an identity somewhat similar to her predecessor Apocalypse's – a menacing, power-seeking but already pretty much all-powerful being who speaks in cryptic one-liners – though thankfully unlike Oscar Isaac, at least she doesn't have to wear comically hideous prosthetics.
To His Credit, Kinberg Does Build A Few Good Moments In His Directorial Debut (Even If His Screenplay Suffers)
Most of the film's action sequences are relegated to specific locations, and that's when Kinberg thrives as a screenwriter and filmmaker. His imagination takes over, leading into tightly-wound sequences thriving on singularity and wonder. That's something you can't always say about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which tends to recycle epic battles between every other film.
Actually, the ending of Dark Phoenix was reportedly so close to Captain Marvel's that they completely reconfigured and reshot it. That may have been a blessing in disguise: Though familiar, the new climax features some of the cleanest, most inventive action the series has offered; after years of writing these things, Kinberg proves himself a more than suitable replacement for Singer, one-upping the disgraced director in the spectacle department.
The Movie Has More To Say About Xavier's Darkness Than Jean's — And Undercuts Her Story For The Sake Of His
At a time when superhero blockbusters are still struggling to figure out how to package girl power for the masses, there's certainly room for a tale that grapples honestly with the unruly passions stirred up by such awakening and empowerment. Somewhere along the way, though, Dark Phoenix loses sight of what it was trying to say about female anger, or male arrogance, or love or rejection or oppression or forgiveness. It forgets to explain who these people are or why they're worth our time.
Each installment of the rebooted X-Men franchise has made it increasingly clear that Professor X's own insecurities about belonging and fitting in are what drive him in his purportedly selfless quest to help all mutants. And it's been mostly harmless, until now. His approach towards Jean is incredibly paternalistic — he protected her from her own woman brain! — and the revelation of his misdeeds force others around him to question his judgement. Dark Phoenix is about an idealistic man experiencing a woman's trauma as a catalyst to confront his own demons.
As A Series Send-Off, It's Supremely Disappointing
Of course, Kinberg's film for all intents and purposes ends the franchise in its current iteration, as Disney absorbs Fox's catalog and the lingering Marvel IP that wasn't already folded into their own cinematic universe. And maybe that's exactly what the X-Men needs – not Marvel's protective gaze, mind you, but someone who hasn't spent literal decades trying to get the same stories and characters right onscreen[…] Kinberg and Fox have tried so many times to deliver stories that they think people want; and after twenty years, maybe it's time to deliver the first one that somebody just thinks should be told.
Big, epic moments sink rather than spike excitement, and Kinberg never shakes this unconvincing performance quality throughout. You can spot production issues on screen – chopped up story reconfiguring, budget sidesteps, reshoot reshaping – and it's a bummer.
It's possible, of course, that there was a better Dark Phoenix once; the finished film, finally opening after delays probably associated with the Fox merger, bears the clear mark of post-production rejiggering. Certainly, this series, uneven and repetitive though it could be, deserved a stronger sendoff before the inevitable MCU reboot. But maybe it got that in Logan, whose final image is more powerful—and conclusive—than anything this skimpy, quasi-farewell can muster. Now there was a different kind of X-Men movie.
To [Kinberg's] credit, Dark Phoenix is at least an improvement from the mess he made with Ratner over a decade ago. To his benefit, the responses will likely be more apathetic than vitriolic this time around.
Ultimately, Dark Phoenix doesn't work as a single entry in the larger franchise, nor does it build effectively on what came before, leaving Fox's X-Men films without a satisfying conclusion to the nearly two-decade old series.
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