If there was one word I would use to describe X-Men: Dark Phoenix, it would be ‘lifeless’.
It’s unfortunate, really. This is the fourth entry in the First Class saga, which started as a prequel/reboot series back in 2011. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were brought on as young, sexy versions of Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto respectively, and together they injected some life back into the X-Men franchise after a few disastrous outings in 2006’s X3: The Last Stand and 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
They’re still the best things about Dark Phoenix, too (more so Fassbender in this one), but the unvarnished truth is that this film is a bust from beginning to end.
Where to begin? It’s hard to look at this film without thinking of the aforementioned The Last Stand, since both deal with the ‘Phoenix Saga’, a series of events where mutant Jean Grey (Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner) is possessed by, and subsequently loses control of, the Phoenix force, doing catastrophic damage to both her family and the world alike.
The very concept of Dark Phoenix is an odd one because, at the end of 2016’s Apocalypse, Jean Grey defeats the bad guy by unleashing the Phoenix force. This movie begins with Jean Grey encountering… the Phoenix force? It’s a strange disconnect, made even stranger by the fact that writer and first-time director Simon Kinberg also wrote X-Men: Apocalypse. Either he forgot or didn’t explain it that well back in 2016, neither of which are good things.
A primary issue is simply that it’s hard to care at all about Jean Grey, Cyclops, Storm, or really anyone not named Professor X or Magneto, because they haven’t earned it. They were (re)introduced for the very first time in Apocalypse itself, and spent most of their time in that one meeting each other. Now, in the very next movie, the audience is being asked to believe that they’re best friends.
Ultimately, this could all be glossed over if the actors made viewers believe they were a team, but another issue is that the performances are all pretty wooden. As mentioned, Fassbender is great; he’s the only one who manages to look like he’s trying at all, while McAvoy’s Xavier is reduced to a fraction of himself, mostly complaining about nothing is his fault. Sophie Turner just seems miscast as Jean Grey–she tries her best, but when most of her dialogue is mumbling followed by shouting the word “QUIET” at the top of her lungs, there’s not much to be done.
Jessica Chastain rounds out the big names as the villain, but she is so incredibly forgettable that it’s almost not worth mentioning. She’s a walking, talking, narrative/exposition fountain, and her character exists for no reason other than to hiss menacingly a few times. If her character actually has a name, I truly don’t remember what it is. There are other actors in here as well, but they either have zero chemistry with the leads (see: Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops) or are barely on-screen (see: Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique), so it’s not worth diving into.
There’s a frayed thread in there somewhere about the fragile peace Professor X has negotiated with humans is now threatened by Jean’s actions, but Kinberg’s script and direction treat it like an afterthought. They save the space shuttle at the personal request of the President and are national heroes, and then Jean blows up a few police cars, and they’re back to being public enemies one through ten.
It’s wild to say, but this might actually be worse than The Last Stand (which Kinberg also wrote, amazingly). At least X3 had some setpieces that were kind of cool (i.e. Magneto moving the Golden Gate bridge); Dark Phoenix has a sequence near the end that employs some creative mutant abilities, but it’s a paltry reward for sitting through two-plus hours of boredom. No, it’s not the worst X-Men movie out there… but it’s pretty close (Origins takes that title for me).
It’s an unfortunate way for the X-Men run with FOX to be wrapped up; now that Disney owns the rights, expect the mutants to be rolled into the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe in the coming years. In the end, there is a litany of things that are wrong with X-Men: Dark Phoenix: mediocre acting, poor chemistry, bad dialogue, and a general lack of things that happen.
Do yourself–and your wallet–a favour, and skip this one.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix released in theatres on June 7, 2019.
You can find Sho on Twitter (@SNSAlli), where he’d love to chat with you about movies, video games, sports, and more!