Dark Phoenix Burns Dimly, Failing To Take Flight

by Ben Martin

Many folks, myself included, feel that X-Men (2000) is responsible for helping kick-off the age of the comic book movie in which we’re now living. It’s been 19 years since the release of the original X-Men. Since then, 20th Century Fox has released 6 other X-Men movies; 3 Wolverine movies; and 2 Deadpool movies, all of which are considered part of an interconnected universe. Now, quantity does not always result in quality as the X franchise is a mixed bag. A bag which is about to be discarded as Disney recently acquired all of Fox, which of course includes all things mutant. Therefore it’s expected that the house of the mouse will reboot the X-Men and integrate them into the MCU. Thus bringing us to the swan song of Fox’s nearly two-decade run with the franchise, Dark Phoenix.
Like X3- X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) before it, Dark Phoenix is another attempt to adapt the classic storyline of The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont and John Byrne to the big screen. More to the point, the co-screenwriter of X-Men: The Last Stand, Simon Kinberg, is once again taking a crack at making Dark Phoenix fly; even going so far as to make his directorial debut with the film. Thankfully, for the writer/director, his previous attempt to tell this story is now null and void due to the convoluted continuity between the original X-Men trilogy and this current set of prequels. In any event, Dark Phoenix does manage to get a little closer to its source material.

The film takes place in 1992, and following a space mission that goes south, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) develops a new set of incredible mutant powers and malevolent streak. Soon after, Jean starts referring to herself as “Phoenix” and seeing her fellow X-Men as the enemy and vice-versa. Now more than ever, mutants are odds with each other as the faith of the world hangs in the balance.
We, humans, are notorious for having to make the same mistake more than once to learn our lesson. Sadly, Dark Phoenix is an example of that human tendency as Kinberg’s second bite at the apple is another miss. Yes, he attempted to bring this story to the screen with the gravitas it deserves. Alas, what we receive from Dark Phoenix is a boring execution of what should be a compelling narrative. The film’s most glaring issue is that it expects you to be invested in these characters; as opposed to properly taking the time to reinvest you in them. Of course, it doesn’t help that none of the cast, (except for Sophie Turner), seem to want to be in the film. And despite her efforts, Ms. Turner’s performance seems stale.

Obviously, an uninspired cast will hurt a movie. However, the real problem with the film in review is that it attempts to adapt an epic X-Men storyline in one film. This approach does not work; to appropriately adapt The Dark Phoenix Saga, it would need to be done as a trilogy. But since that’s not the case, Dark Phoenix ends up feeling like an overstuffed, yet underdeveloped flick. A prime example of such is the film’s seemingly pointless villain, Vuk (Jessica Chastain) and her subplot could have been excised entirely without affecting the narrative one bit.

The only two compliments I can bestow on this movie is that it’s competently made, and is one of the better-looking films in the series, thanks to cinematographer Mauro Fiore (Training Day). Aside from its visuals though, Dark Phoenix burns dimly and ultimately fails to take flight. It may be the weakest entry in this franchise. As a result, Dark Phoenix is an incredibly disappointing conclusion to the X-Men movies as we know them. Thus, nearly two decades worth of movies has ended on a dull, uninspired note. But, all things must come to an end, I suppose.  In closing, as much as I hate the fact that Disney is slowly taking over the world, I’ll be interested to see what happens to the X-Men under Marvel Studios.

Dark Phoenix Is In Theaters Now!

The New Mutants Is Presumably Still Set For Release. However, An Actual Release Date Is Still TBD.

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