‘Dark Phoenix’ is far from the worst of the X-Men series, but it could have been much more

 By Jason Seyler

June 5, 2019

You have to admire the endurance of the X-Men series. We have seen 10 films (excluding the Deadpool films) released over the past 19 years. There have been a variety of highs (Logan) and certainly lows (Origins: Wolverine). Any other series would probably have been rebooted twice by now, but after sequels, prequels, solo films, time travel stories, and a poignant drama, we have reached the culmination of this series with the arrival of Dark Phoenix. The Dark Phoenix storyline is highly regarded among comic book readers as one of the best tales to be featured within the X-Men lore. Adapting this was already attempted in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. Having seen that film, it is easy to see why Twentieth Century Fox would want to give it another try.   

Sophie Turner as Jean Grey / Dark Phoenix and Jessica Chastain as Vuk, Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

The story begins when rescuing a crew of stranded astronauts during a space mission, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) comes into contact with an extra-terrestrial energy. The force seems to enhance her mutant powers and unlocks something inside her that she can’t control. As her power continues to grow, she learns more about her past and becomes not only a danger to her fellow X-Men but also herself.  

Series alumnus, Simon Kinberg, takes on writing and directing duties for this installment of the franchise. Kinberg is no stranger to the X-Men saga, as he has been the go-to writer and producer for many of the previous films in the series. As for directing, this is his first time behind the camera on a feature-length film and, surprisingly, he does an adequate job here. The action sequences are frantic (in a good way), showcasing a variety of mutant powers without lingering on anything too long. Objects and lightning fly by throughout shots. Characters teleport in and out of frame. Kinberg effectively captures the chaos that would occur when these extraordinary powers are put to use. There are a few dramatic moments that work as well, fueled by a turning point that occurs at the end of the first act. A few actors get a chance to shine here, particularly one scene between James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult as they argue over who is to blame for their current predicament.  

L-R: Tye Sheridan, James McAvoy, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Alexandra Shipp. Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

However, Kinberg’s script never really captures the dilemma at the heart of this story. The film starts strong, but once Jean has developed into an antagonist, the film seems to stall as if it doesn’t know what it wants to do next. Much like Jean herself, the film spends time wandering around in search of other characters. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto comes into the film during the second act, but the script doesn’t convince us why he needs to be there. Fassbender has been excellent as Magneto over the course of these films, but here he feels shoehorned into the story. Jessica Chastain plays the main antagonist in a role that is so one-note, it becomes frustrating after a while. To watch an actress as talented as Chastain wasted in a role like this is disappointing.

As for Jean Grey herself, Sophie Turner is fine in the role. Her turn to the dark side doesn’t have an impact though because we don’t know the character. This version of Jean was introduced in X-Men: Apocalypse, but that was an ensemble film as well. As an audience, we haven’t spent much time with her and, therefore, it is difficult to be invested in what is driving her towards becoming a threat. There is also a level of disbelief here as Jean doesn’t come off that threatening. We’re supposed to believe that she is dangerous, but the film doesn’t show us why.  The story continually attempts to build Jean as the enemy, but the script doesn’t allow the character to embrace her villainous qualities. For the X-Men, Jean feels less like a villain and more like an inconvenience. McAvoy’s Xavier is given the most screen time to sell the story, but with so many different characters involved, it isn’t enough to stay interesting.

Sophie Turner as Jean Grey / Dark Phoenix and Jessica Chastain as Vuk, Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Dark Phoenix is far from the worst of the series, but it could have been more. It has all the action and visuals you would expect in a franchise like this, but it’s become monotonous. The X-Men aren’t new anymore, and a good script that provides new layers to these characters could have made this film feel fresh. This is a better-told story than X-Men: The Last Stand, but that was an easy bar to clear. This is likely the last time we will see these versions of the characters before Disney’s acquisition of Twentieth Century Fox causes them to be rebooted for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While many would agree that it was time to see this series walk off into the sunset, we would have liked to have seen a better exit.      

Star Rating: 2.5 out 5

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