Review – Dark Phoenix (2019)

by Kevin Muller

In the year 2000, the first X-Men dropped and showed us that it was possible to create a comic book movie that felt real, while containing the themes of alienation and prejudice. All these modern day super-hero films, from The Dark Knight films to Marvel’s vast cinematic library, owes a great amount of gratitude to what director Bryan Singer brought to that film. This will be the last time we see these characters under the control of 20th Century Fox. Disney, which owns Marvel, merged with the company and now have control of the mutants, so it is only a matter of time until we see a reboot of the story and its characters. For their final go with the property, Fox have decided to adapt the ever popular Dark Phoenix saga again. They touched upon it in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, with mixed results. Does this film improve on it?

Jean Grey, played by Sophie Turner, is one of Charles Xavier’s, brilliantly played again by James McAvoy, top students. Thanks to her, and the other mutants, the divide is slowly fading between the humans and their kind. Mystique, again played by Jennifer Lawrence, isn’t a fan of how Charles is constantly putting all their lives in danger. Yes, it has given Charles and his kind positive recognition, but it seems he is power hungry. It also seems he hasn’t been entirely truthful about Jean’s tragic past that shows us how she came to the mansion. When she was eight, she was involved in a car accident that took the lives of her parents, due to her being unable to control her powers when extreme emotion came into play. Charles took her in to both give her a home and help her develop control over her gifts. After a space mission, that causes her to come in contact with a mysterious space force, she starts to lose control of her power. She once again becomes isolated from the only family she has known due to the fear of her powers. The only ones who are interested in her are an alien race that come down to find her in hopes to take control of that power.

Simon Kinberg, who was the screenwriter behind many of the past films, sits in the director’s chair and you can sense this is his first time. When the series did a soft reboot in 2011 with X-Men: First Class, it had a dream cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence that led that cast. The problem with this film is that Kinberg doesn’t have the creative mind that First Class director Matthew Vaughn did. Where Vaughn made the X-Men feel fresh, alive, and original, Kinberg’s film is just another run of a mill X-men film. There is a serious lack of style here that makes it hard to care about anything going on screen. It’s a film that feels like it just goes through the motions to get to the next big emotional moment or set piece, despite the fact that we don’t care about the characters when those moments due happen. While Turner did impressive work on Game of Thrones, she is bland and uninteresting here. When she turns to her evil side, she does an okay job at projecting deep seated anger. It is everything leading up to it that isn’t convincing. She comes off more like a spoiled brat than a woman who is caught in a lifetime battle with herself. Lawrence gives the definition of a phone in performance. The energy she had in the first two rebooted films is gone and you can see her just counting the seconds until the end of this story. Fassbender, who brings out the complexity of Magneto as well as Ian McKellan did, seems to be trying to squeeze some type of depth out of the shallow script, but at other times seems to be on autopilot like Lawrence. It’s McAvoy who still gives 100% as Charles. It is a testament to an actor who makes a character seem intriguing and interesting, despite having nothing to go on. The worst performance comes from the always reliable Jessica Chastain. She plays the lead alien, who is supposed to be a vacant representation of an outer world being, but seems awkward in trying to project that trait. Sadly, the younger actors who portray the teenage versions of Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Storm, get overshadowed by their far more experienced co-stars.

While in most of the X-men, Charles was the answer to all that was good in this world. He would give a speech about how humans and mutants could coexist. Kinberg takes a gamble with how Charles is portrayed in this movie. He isn’t the sympathetic “know-it- all” he has been portrayed as in other movies. A lot of the confrontation comes from his need to control everything around him. Of course, McAvoy goes way beyond his calling to bring this out of him. Sometimes though, the need to modernize the movie does get in a way of this decision. It seems that the next Hollywood checklist item is showing that women could be as good as men. There are many moments in the film where it feels Kinberg is shoving that message down our throats. As with a character who is a man, woman, straight, gay, or whatever, the character’s actions should say all of that, not the words that come out of their mouths.   

The chapter has closed on this nearly 20 year ride. It’s a shame that a cast this good was never used to their full potential because they could’ve produced films that were up there with the best the MCU provided. At one point, fed up with his friend’s BS, Magneto says to Charles ‘It is always the same thing with you. There is always a speech.” I am glad the movie was meta enough to recognize its own shortcomings that has plagued the series for some time. Hopefully, MCU brings out more than what this franchise has been riding on for two decades.

I am giving Dark Phoenix a 2.5 out of 5 Hairpieces!

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