It was always a fair bet that Dark Phoenix would be pretty average, though we still had hope. Sadly, X-Men film fans’ fears have come true.
With its troubled production, including lengthy reshoots, the filmmakers’ first, failed attempt at the Phoenix Saga with X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) leaving a sour taste in fans’ mouths, and a first-time director (longtime producer) in Simon Kinberg at the helm, there was always a big asterisk surrounding Dark Phoenix. With all those worrying aspects combined, the film would have needed a miracle to have been any good. Unfortunately, the miracle never came.
Dark Phoenix follows the story of the mutant superhero group the X-Men, who now in 1992, have become somewhat of a worldwide phenomenon. Friendly with their former enemies, the human race, the X-Men set out on a path to do good around the world. Magneto (Michael Fassbender), the film series’ regular antagonist, has retired from his evil ways and is out living on an isolated island with other, fellow mutants that don’t seem to fit in with regular society. A safe-haven if you will.
Things go south in the mutant-human relationship when Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbs the power of a powerful cosmic storm while out on a space mission, giving her mythical powers beyond comprehension. She tries hard to control these powers, but when they take a hold of her, bad things happen, and people get injured or die. This causes the humans to cut ties with mutants yet again, dubbing Jean an enemy of the state. Fellow mutants also take note, with Magneto leading the charge to try and eliminate Jean, whose power becomes so strong that she now poses a threat to her own kind.
Enter Jessica Chastain’s character Vuk, the leader of a shapeshifting alien-race who have come to earth to take Jean’s power, or the Phoenix power as it is known, and use it for their own destructive purposes. With Vuk in one ear and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) in the other, Jean will have to decide where her allegiances lie, all while having to battle the demons within her, as well as the real, physical threat that’s knocking on her door at every turn.
The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the most beloved and respected X-Men story-arcs in the comic-book series, so it’s a shame that it hasn’t been given the treatment it deserves on the big screen after two attempts. The film is messy and the writing is poor. The filmmakers assume audiences know these characters well from the earlier films and fail to spend any time building any emotional connection to them. Not caring what happens to these iconic characters forces the audience to rely on the film’s secondary mode of entertainment to get them through it – its action. X-Men films have always had fantastic set-pieces and Dark Phoenix features some awesome ones. In this case, however, the action isn’t enough of a saving grace.
The film is not entirely without any redeeming qualities though. Michael Fassbender’s performance is a class above, to the point where it feels like he doesn’t belong in this film for being too good of an actor for the script. Turner’s performance in the title role is fantastic, but again, she’s held back by the film’s shocking script. Jessica Chastain was a lovely addition to the cast and she’s an actress that always gives it her all. Too bad her character was paper thin, with a motivation that’s snooze-worthy. The always-great James McAvoy and the rest of the primary X-Men cast mostly seem to be phoning it in, unfortunately.
Dark Phoenix was doomed from the beginning if all the reports are to go by and it appears they were true. Savvy viewers will easily be able to see just how meddled-with the film looks, with the end result suffering for it severely. As far as pure popcorn blockbuster films go, the film should satisfy some audiences looking to switch their brains off for a while. For X-Men film fans looking for a gratifying conclusion to the long-running franchise before it heads over to Disney – forget about it.
Hans Zimmer decided to retire from composing superhero movies after having worked on scores for Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man, but Simon Kinberg convinced him to work on this film.