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Review: Dark Phoenix

Poster image of 20th Century Fox's DARK PHOENIX

As I sat there watching Dark Phoenix, I started wondering why I decided to even give this movie a chance. Before even seeing it, the potential problems that it might have were obvious, plus I haven’t liked an X-Men movie since First Class (not including Deadpool and Deadpool 2). Yeah, it ended up being atrocious overall, but I can’t say it disappointed me. Expectations were pretty low beforehand, but at least it wasn’t as messy as I thought it would be.

In 1992, the X-Men are drawn into space to help save a mission that’s gone wrong. While up there to save lives, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is hit by an unknown cosmic force that turns her into one of the most powerful mutants on the planet. Not knowing how to contain it, she wrestles with her new powers and begins to spiral out of control. This not only puts her in danger, but it also threatens to destroy the X-Men, the trust that mutants have earned with humans and maybe even the world.

One reason why I felt Dark Phoenix wasn’t going to work was proven to be true from the very beginning. I was sure that some of the remaining characters who were secondary players in the previous movies would be thrust into the spotlight. And seeing as how it’s called Dark Phoenix, it was pretty obvious Jean Grey would be the one with the most screen time out of all of them.

Because there was very little in terms of character development for these characters in past films, there’s a bit of a disconnect when watching. The scenes we’re getting early on are supposed to be emotional and serious, but it’s hard to feel anything for characters we haven’t had time to grow with over time. With that being the case, nothing really hits in these scenes and it makes most of the supposedly emotional moments feel empty.

I’ve always said that the sequels following First Class should have been mostly built around the characters introduced in that movie. Instead, they decided to take a huge leap forward and move to places they shouldn’t have as far as storylines and timelines are concerned. They started moving forward by going back to the older series of movies in making Days of Future Past. Doing this pretty much killed any chance of proper development for the First Class guys as everything jumps like ten years ahead.

As far as jumping forward in time, that wasn’t a huge issue going from the 60s in First Class to the 70s in Days of Future Past. Physically, the characters could still look close to the same, but it was hard to explain why certain things (like Fassbender’s Magneto actually becoming Magneto) hadn’t happened yet. Anyway, the time jumping became difficult to overlook when they proceeded to jump to the 80s in X-Men: Apocalypse and then to the 90s with Dark Phoenix. This is nearly three decades and your characters all pretty much look as if they haven’t aged more than a few years.

I think Apocalypse showed that the people behind it really didn’t care much about any sort of logic while also highlighting the fact that they didn’t have much respect for the property that they owned the rights to. At this point, it looked more and more like they were just pushing this stuff out to solely to make money. There was very little effort put into any of it and that was hard to ignore even though they were able to cast some credible actors in some of these roles.

As for Dark Phoenix, even if you choose to overlook that these guys barely age and that the key characters (some more than others) haven’t even begun to head in the direction they’re supposed to, you can’t ignore the dreadful acting that we’re presented with. Predictably, a lot of this falls on the shoulders of Sophie Turner since she’s the central character and has a ton of screen time. While some of the actors were also poor because of a lack of talent or because they weren’t trying, she was clearly the weakest of the bunch.

The movie itself is bland, subdued and mostly uneventful, but so is Turner. She has absolutely no range and had an incredibly tough time showing any type of emotion in any form at any point in the movie. To have her at the center of everything was a huge mistake simply because she isn’t capable of leading even a single segment of a movie. Maybe she will be one day, but she clearly isn’t ready for that at the moment.

I like some of the actors and wish some could have had more to work with. Their contributions aren’t worth much though since they have to share so much time with actors who either aren’t at that level yet or aren’t trying anymore. Out of the ones who were still trying, Michael Fassbender was the best. And I say this even though his character has been one of the most misused throughout the entire run of films.

Anyone who knows even a small amount about the X-Men knows Magneto is supposed to grow into the main antagonist of the superhero group. His transformation was set up well by the end of First Class, but he just ended up getting stuck in the middle somewhere while also being mostly detached from things over the course of this series of movies. In Dark Phoenix, that’s essentially where he finds himself again.

I guess we can talk about Jennifer Lawrence too. She has legit acting abilities, but everybody knows she “checked out” a couple of movies ago. They kind of remedy that here in a way that was actually smart, but I won’t give away anything pertaining to how they actually go about doing that. I understand why it happened, but the truth is her character should have never been given such relevance in the first place. You can criticize her for not putting all that much into her character, but you can also blame those who make the decisions.

In spite of all the negatives, a movie like this could be saved with some high-level action. Unfortunately, we don’t get too much of that here as Dark Phoenix features very little action and chooses to move slowly toward its conclusion. While the action is largely absent and frequently forgettable, there is one action sequence in the final act that’s really, really good. It had me wishing that the rest of the movie had this much energy and care put into it. Even if you take the non-acting into account, this could have made at least parts of the movie worth checking out at some point in the future.

Based purely on all the bad press ahead of time, I thought Dark Phoenix would be a complete wreck at the end of the X-Men’s run at Fox. That prediction was slightly off, but I was right in that it wasn’t going to be any good. Instead of an outright mess, we got a movie where plenty of people both in front of and behind the camera simply weren’t very good. With all that, I left feeling like this could have been solid with more work. It would have been nice to see what could have happened with proper casting, stronger storytelling and better development over the years.

Although it’s not as messy as anticipated, it wasn’t clean by any means. There are characters they introduce us to who I don’t even think have names. They also don’t even try to build on any continuity when looking at what’s come before it. Remember, these were essentially supposed to be prequels. Here, they don’t care and completely ignore all that came before it whether we’re talking about the films from the early 2000s or even Days of Future Past. None of that matters here.

If I’m being honest, Dark Phoenix shouldn’t have even been made. I guess they had to do it if the contracts were already signed. If that’s the case, everybody who was supposed to come back probably had to. Plus, those checks weren’t going to cash themselves. Why let it go to waste even if you’re ready to get this over with? In that sense, I understand why it would get pushed out, but I doubt too many people are or will be excited about this or any other potential X-Men movie that might be coming from 20th Century Fox.

When I think about it, comic book movies really changed around the X-Men movies and I don’t think Fox was ever really able to grasp that. We’re in a time now where more is expected from these movies. Even though I haven’t liked every movie from the MCU, the growth of Marvel illustrates this more than anything. Now, since Feige and those guys have the rights to these characters as well now, maybe we can finally start to get the X-Men that we’ve been waiting for since 2000.

Rating: PG-13

Director: Simon Kinberg

Cast:
James McAvoy
Michael Fassbender
Jennifer Lawrence
Nicholas Hoult
Sophie Turner
Tye Sheridan
Alexandra Shipp
Kodi Smit-McPhee
Evan Peters
Jessica Chastain

Film Length: 120 minutes

Release Date: June 7th, 2019

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

  • 3/10
    Score - 3/10
3/10
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