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 our 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.
I’ve been a staunch believer in Dark Phoenix from the outset. I pride myself on being someone who is disregard noise on social media in order to judge the final product for myself.
The clips shown at the UK fan event: the space mission, Jean visiting Genosha and the New York street battle all showed some well choreographed action sequences. Something this franchise has always prided itself on.
What was missing from those sequences was the connective tissue which would hold the movie together. Writer/director Simon Kinberg explained to the audience that we were seeing the action as they wanted to save the character scenes for fans to see in cinemas.
Now I’ve seen those scenes it is safe to say that after two attempts at telling the Dark Phoenix story Kinberg sadly just doesn’t quite get it.
Whilst I have to complement his character work there’a fundamental lack of understanding of the original comic book story which once again means this is barely a Phoenix movie.
What was good to see was Kinberg making an attempt to pitch the movie as something more serious and gritty. Though nothing unique, even for the super hero genre, it was still fun to see the X-Men in something more melancholic. I’ll be honest the that it was downbeat easily earned the movie another point in my final score.
Let’s start with the pros because actually there are quite a few of them. Dark Phoenix is a well acted movie. Sophie Turner does an excellent job the material she has. Unlike Famke Janssen in X-Men: The Last Stand this is a much more nuanced version of the character.
Where The Last Stand pitched the character as chaotic and filled with rage Dark Phoenix plays the inner demons of the character more like an addiction. Janssen’s Phoenix had a wickedly delightful edge where Turner has a more tragic descent towards her ultimate fate.
Early in the movie, following her infection with the cloud, Jean’s condition could easily be compared to a drug high. She’s giddy with the strength it makes her feel. It’s only when she begins to lose control that her character spirals. What follows includes the murder of one of the X-Men (or is that X-Women?), a disastrous trip to Genosha and then becoming to puppet of Jessica Chastain’s Vuk.
Despite her name being in the title the movie really belongs to James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult.
Charles is one of the more compelling characters in the movie. We start off seeing him almost revel in the teams new found fame. His direct link to the president seems to be more of a status symbol than a gift to help in the fight for humanity and mutant kind. As events unravel around his we see Charles fall to a new low.
There’s an arrogance to him which we haven’t seen in previous movies. With the death of Raven he’s soon handed a dose of humility. Through most of the movies second act he continues to fall from his pedestal until he finally hits the ground.
Though his performance is, at times, quite reserved due to the physical restraints of the role he is still able to give an emotional performance.
After three movies of playing the sidekick Nicholas Hoult finally has chance to flex his muscles in Dark Phoenix. His scene with Charles in the kitchen is easily a standout of the movie.
Though there’s the generic “let’s run away” scene with Raven prior to her death, followed by the inevitable “she wanted to leave and I convinced her to stay” argument, he’s still able to convey the grief that Beast is feeling.
Hank running to Magneto for help to kill Jean in the wake of her actions feels a little disingenuous though. For a character so rational and based in science he seems to lose all judgement instantly at her loss. It’s an extreme reaction and not out of the realm of possibility but the speed at which is happens here is what does the arc a disservice. Particularly given then he switches teams again shortly afterwards.
I’m sure you’re asking: but what about Jennifer Lawrence? Is she phoning it in. Well to make an observation like that she would probably need to be in more than seven (only seen it once, rough estimate) scenes. She certainly seems very stoic. But to be honest that feels more like it is the way her character is written.
She’s against the decisions that Charles is making at every and that is what eventually leads to her death. That leads us to one of the more underwhelming moments of the movie.
Dark Phoenix is littered with moments setup to be emotional, all of which seem to fall entirely flat. From Jean’s childhood flashback through to her sacrifice at the end of the moment none of these scenes are built in a way which helps them to land successfully.
Looking at the moment Raven dies it’s easy to say that all of the emotions are taking out of it because we’ve seen this in almost all the trailers. Once she hits the fence it takes a moment to reveal her injuries which feels completely at odds with the fact we know she is going to die.
Rather than leaning in to the moment and giving her a fitting demise we’re instead left with a generic camera pull back and reveal of her body pierced by several sharp pieces of wood. It draws out tension which doesn’t exist right from the beginning of the scene.
Sitting in the audience watching this moment it felt awkward rather than sad and that’s not how I should be feeling for a character as awesome as Mystique.
The movie comes closest to greatness in its opening and closing set pieces. The trip to space at the beginning shows the team functioning the most like an actual team which we have several seen. There’s a lot going on with Mystique at the centre of the action calling the shots.
It’s a well crafted and well executed sequence which shows us exactly what this movie could have been.
Likewise the third act, which we think is entirely added in reshoots, is well executed. Though the space most of the fight takes place in is tight it’s still well choreographed to make use of the space.
It represents a fast paced, team orientated aspect of the series which has so rarely been shown throughout the 19 year history of the X-Men movies. As great as it was to watch I found the whole sequence frustrating as it represented a much better movie which was lurking underneath.
CGI is on par for most of the movie. There are some high points (space) and some low points (Chastain jumping from a railway bridge, Jean’s CGI hair) but on the whole its on par for a movie which cost around $200m to produce.
It’s certainly on the same level as X-Men: Apocalypse but not up to what we say in the brilliant Days of Future Past.
Hans Zimmer provides the score this time around. The series is missing its typical theme tune which was given this likely the last time out of the gate for the 20th Century Fox version of the franchise.
It’s not his most imaginative score but serves the movie well and certainly enhanced my overall enjoyment factor. There are hints of his work on Inception and Interstellar and that is never a bad thing.
Ultimately Dark Phoenix will go down in history as a sad, underwhelming ending to the franchise. Nearly 20 years of storytelling has culminated in a well produced, well acted but hollow movie.
Strong performances from James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult and Sophie Turner are marred by emotionless dialogue and dull action sequences. Though never unwatchable it’s neither exciting nor satisfying.
Dark Phoenixis being directed by Simon Kinberg. James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender are confirmed to return to the roles of Charles Xavier, Mystique and Magneto respectively. Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Nicholas Hoult, Alexandra Shipp and Kodi Smit-McPhee will also return.