More often than not, things don’t end with a dramatic flourish or a bang; they actually end with a whimper…
While the Dark Phoenix story has been done before, excitement was high that the cinematic translation of it all would live up to the coloured panels on the page but it ultimately ends up being a disappointing affair where everyone involved just can’t help but give off the energy that they’d hope this would all just end.
In Dark Phoenix, the X-Men face their most formidable and powerful foe: one of their own, Jean Grey. During a rescue mission in space, Jean is nearly killed when she is hit by a mysterious cosmic force. Once she returns home, this force not only makes her infinitely more powerful, but far more unstable. Wrestling with this entity inside her, Jean unleashes her powers in ways she can neither comprehend nor contain. With Jean spiraling out of control, and hurting the ones she loves most, she begins to unravel the very fabric that holds the X-Men together. Now, with this family falling apart, they must find a way to unite — not only to save Jean’s soul, but to save our very planet from aliens who wish to weaponize this force and rule the galaxy.
Ultimately, Dark Phoenix is one of those movies that rises to just below the middle on the quality scale. There’s nothing all that wrong with it, but there’s really nothing right with it either as it all comes across as something that’s just incredibly bored with itself and doesn’t want to be there telling its story.
A long time producer and writer on the X-Men franchise, Simon Kinberg takes the directorial helm on this one and while he does a decent enough job it all feels very rote and dry. Handling the directing, writing AND producing jobs may simply been an over-extension of his talents. The story has a decent amount of flow to it, looks pretty good from beginning to end and does at least establish characters well enough. However, the bigger narrative in Dark Phoenix gets glossed over quite often in order to make it all fit in a two hour time frame, this story could have benefited from a trilogy of its own (or at worst a mini-series on the soon to launch Disney + streaming service) as it skates through so many elements of the story, some of which X-Men: The Last Stand actually did a better job of dealing with.
In previous films with the younger X-Men cast there was a sense of energy and vibrancy to them but this time out there’s barely enough enthusiasm in the ensemble to make it feel like it was worth getting out of bed to see the movie in the first place. Most familiar faces return from the previous X-Men: Apocalypse but there’s so little character development throughout with any of the characters and really plays in a very lazy fashion. Sure, going in we’re supposed to know and accept the motivations of all these characters but the film just re-establishes everything in such a lackadaisical fashion that we really don’t care what happens to any of them in the first place.
There’s no doubt that Sophie Turner has the presence to carry a film from beginning to end, but it’s just too soon for her and with the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Michael Fassbender & James McAvoy carrying the film opposite her, it’s obvious that she’s just not there yet and that carrying an episode of Game of Thrones is different than an entire feature film. Even Jessica Chastain as the mysterious alien Vuk looking to weaponize and claim Jean’s new power doesn’t have all that much to do and by the end is just waiting to put the check she got for this film in the bank.
Ultimately, Dark Phoenix is actually worse than bad…it’s boring; and that’s the last thing you want to be remembered for in a long running franchise. Go into this one well caffeinated, because sadly you’ll need it.