X-Men: Dark Phoenix
Throw a dart at an X-Men movie and there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll hit something good, so tumultuous has their journey on the big screen been over the past nineteen years. The high highs of Days of Future Past match only the very low lows of Origins: Wolverine, but at least we can say that Fox doesn’t do things by halves. Dark Phoenix may have received a lambasting from the critics over the past week or so, but, whilst it is by no means a good movie, my low expectations made for an OK time at the movies.
In fact, I was completely on board with the first twenty minutes or so of this film. The X-Men are now a fully-fledged superhero team, with a direct line to the President, and mutants are no longer feared in the world, but accepted. It sets off on a brisk pace, and within minutes the team is already in space, saving astronauts from colliding with a solar flare. It is a tight, concise beginning to the film, tense and further enhanced by Hans Zimmer’s damn good score, and, should this have been the first episode in a Dark Phoenix TV show, it might have fared better.
Unfortunately, the film continues from there. It is a lengthy and difficult story to adapt, The Dark Phoenix Saga, and it shows both in this film and its previous attempt The Last Stand; both were written by Simon Kinberg, who inherited the title of director for this latest outing, and it smacks of an innate misunderstanding of the story. The same mistakes that were made in 2006’s iteration of the arc are once again made here, and no lessons seem to have been learned; more characters are added to flesh out a story that doesn’t need to be expanded, and Phoenix herself becomes, once again, side lined.
The good news is that the performances are (mostly) there. Turner is excellent as both Jean Grey and her alter-ego, Phoenix, and manages to flit between her softer and villainous side with ease; it’s just a shame that she is not given enough to do, despite it being her movie. The rest of the cast don’t fare much better, as narrative would have you believe that Professor X (an always under-appreciated McAvoy) is the true villain of the piece, but not enough focus and development is made for his arc to ring true, whilst Magneto (Fassbender) is in this movie simply because the filmmakers wanted him to be.
And then, of course, is the added villain, a character made by Kinberg’s own design. Vuk (Chastain), an otherworldly being (although none of the characters reactions would render this a big deal), follows the solar flare down to Earth in order to harness its power. It is, quite frankly, baffling as to why Chastain would accept such a part, as she is completely wasted in a generic villain role and holds little to no threat on our heroes; her talents far exceed what the script requires of her.
It is very poorly written and directed, with no quick wit or visual flare to heighten the viewing experience, and the film plods along without any sense of urgency, despite one of its main characters turning to the dark side. Action is mediocre, at best, without anything memorable, and it’s nice to know that the heroes we are supposed to look up to now hold no regard for civilian life (a street in New York quickly becomes rubble whilst two sets of heroes/villains are at loggerheads).
It may not be painful to watch, due to a strong opening act and a good performance from Turner, but with a lack of development amongst its characters, superfluous villains and some baffling choices made by the creative team, it is a damp squib of an ending to a nineteen-year long franchise. Not their finest hour.