Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult
Director: Simon Kinberg
After 19 years and seven main films, Dark Phoenix caps off Fox’s main X-Men series before Disney rewrites it and incorporates it into the MCU. After all the time and money spent on these movies, the final one should be a sendoff that gives audiences a satisfying conclusion to characters and actors that we’ve grown connected to over the years. Unfortunately Dark Phoenix doesn’t do the series justice and ends up being one of the weakest in the franchise. While the stacked cast continues to deliver in a way that very few ensembles can, the shoddy action sequences and disorganized plot take Dark Phoenix off the rails prevent it from ever reaching its true potential.
The film follows the X-Men, a group of mutants led by Charles Xavier (McAvoy). This movie focuses on one member of the group in particular; Jean Gray (Sophie Turner). Jean has advanced telekinetic powers that often match or surpass that of Xavier’s. When Jean is exposed to what appears to be a solar flare, her powers are amplified to a level that she can’t control, putting the whole world at risk. The real strength of this movie lies with the casting choices, as the actors who have been working together for years certainly have their parts down to a science. McAvoy, Fassbender, and Hoult have been in their roles for eight years and four movies, so it’s at a point now where know exactly how these characters would act in the scenarios they’ve been placed in. Hoult in particular is incredibly strong in his supporting role and shows a complex range of emotions that no other character in the film does. Hoult continues to show promise in his budding career and I predict he will be nominated for an Academy Award at some point in the next five years. Outside of the chemistry of the long-term actors, the film really falls flat with its focus point characters and action sequences. Starting with the fight sequences, most of them end up looking bloated and disorganized. Barring the final fight which fixes many of these issues, most of the fights leading up to this point feature the tacky quick cuts and slow-motion that should’ve died in the early 2000s. That stuff was cool when The Matrix first did it, but we know better now and we can do better. With a budget of $200 million, you would expect something more organized and interesting, but that wasn’t the case here. For comparison, Shazam! had about half the budget of Dark Phoenix and those fights looked significantly better than what we got here. Sometimes less is more in fight sequences and if they spent half the money they did on explosives and focused it on developing these scenes more I don’t think we would’ve seen the issues as obviously as they were shown. Moving on to the characters, I was incredibly underwhelmed by Turner’s performance as Jean. Jean is an incredibly complex character going through one of the most difficult experiences ever seen in the X-Men series, but Turner misses most of the emotional cues given the tone of the movie. There are times where she is going through emotional distress and is seen on the cusp of smiling before releasing her rage. Combine this with the emotional disconnect between her and many of the other characters in this movie and you end up with a boring subject matter who can’t deliver on a weak script. Outside of Turner, Vuk (Jessica Chastain) is quite possibly the weakest, most generic villain in a mainstream superhero movie. Vuk and her species had their planet destroyed by the energy that Jean absorbed and now Vuk wants to harness that energy to take over Earth. Seriously, how unoriginal is this premise? Generic alien race show up chasing power and wanting to take over Earth. Mind blowing. Not only that, but they literally just show up. No context is given to their presence, the just land and start doing whatever they want because they’re the bad guys. There had to be a better way to go about these characters to actually make them compelling and multi-dimensional, but instead we got a cookie-cutter villain that adds nothing to the movie. It’s very disappointing because Chastain is incredibly talented and it feels like her presence is wasted on poor material. She can only do so much with what she’s given, but she looks just as bored as we feel as the movie goes on. This feeling exists for most of the 114 minutes and if it weren’t for the strong leading performances and occasionally good fight scene, Dark Phoenix would easily end up as one of the biggest disappointments of the year.
Overall, this series and these actors deserved a much better finale than what we got. As someone who really liked X-Men: First Class and Logan, Dark Phoenix isn’t even close to competing with those movies. There are a couple of fun moments, but for the most part Dark Phoenix ends this groundbreaking series on a sour note and is not what the X-Men series should be remembered for. It’s a true shame, but fortunately I don’t think Disney will allow this to happen when they take over the property moving forward, so there is hope that one day we will once again see a truly great X-Men movie.
Overall Score: 4/10