There has been a surprising lack of hype for a movie that is supposed to be the culmination of almost 20 years of X-Men by 20th Century Fox. This is in stark (no pun intended) contrast with that for Avengers: Endgame
, which is almost the biggest movie of all time at this point. But fans of the X-Men franchise can breathe easy, because Disney taking over Fox means that Marvel will now get back access to it, and possibly incorporate it into their shared universe.
Writer Simon Kinberg, involved with the X-Men franchise since X-Men: The Last Stand
, chose to helm Dark Phoenix, stating that he wanted to move the franchise forward in a bold fashion. And fortunately, it's a promise that he somewhat manages to deliver on.
Dark Phoenix opens with a traumatic incident from the childhood of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and her first memory of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). The first half establishes Jean's background story, and documents the unfortunate accident that led to a morphing into the chaotically powerful and volatile Phoenix. The usual suspects all make an appearance, with the first class of Prof Xavier's students, namely Raven Darkhölme / Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Hank McCoy / Beast (Nicholas Hoult), leading the younger recruits Ororo Munroe / Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and Jean's love interest Scott Summers / Cyclops (Tye Sheridan).
The second half is less consistent, with the introduction of an alien race, the D'Bari, which wishes to control Jean and her powers. Jean is slowly spiralling out of control, and edges towards becoming a threat to not only the X-Men but also the planet. After turning to Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto (Michael Fassbender) for advice and being rejected by him, Jean gets caught between the promises of the D'Bari leader Vuk (Jessica Chastain) and the mistakes of Charles Xavier in the past, leaving the Dark Phoenix at risk of turning everything in her wake into ashes.
Dark Phoenix has plenty of fun moments, and the special effects bring Jean's Phoenix avatar to life. Which makes it more of a pity that the writers give Sophie Turner very little to do beyond looking scared or enraged. In a film that is supposedly an origin story, the script does little to explore Jean Grey's tragic background, and you never feel any connection to the character. It is fatiguing to see yet another superhero that has no identity beyond their abilities.
Dark Phoenix is Kinberg's directorial debut, and he struggles to maintain continuity, especially in the second half of the movie. It can be pardoned to an extent considering that the entire ending of the movie was reshot to be on earth instead of in space after it was found to be too similar to another movie (Captain Marvel
, which featured aliens, and combat in space heavily). What cannot be forgiven is the jarring lack of a background story on the villainous alien race. They are just there, no explanations given.
The effects, as we briefly mentioned before, are the saving grace here. Dark Phoenix is a visually beautiful movie, with believable and stunning vistas of space (featuring a certain "solar flare" scene that looks wicked cool). The production values are top-notch, and the movie is almost worth a watch purely due to the spectacle. That being said, the reboot of the series has been on somewhat of a downward spiral - although not as bad as X-Men: Apocalypse
, X-Men: Days Of The Future Past
was not as good as X-Men: First Class
Modern superhero movies tend to rely too much on star power, which does not seem to be as effective when the script is lacking. Despite James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender's best efforts, both Xavier and Magneto seem laboured acts (it doesn't help that Magneto takes multiple U-turns in his worldview). Jessica Chastain is wasted - her character is the very obvious villain and nothing beyond that.
Jennifer Lawrence faces an abrupt end, as shown in the trailers, leaving her with not much to do. Nicholas Hoult has an interesting role here, as you get to see an enraged Beast smashing things (and people). One would expect more emotion from Tye Sheridan, seeing his character's girlfriend's plight, but he doesn't deliver on that. Evan Peters and Kodi Smit-McPhee add some comic relief (the latter also gets some cool action scenes as the Nightcrawler), but Alexandra Shipp's Storm seems strangely underused for such a powerful character.
Hans Zimmer scores for another superhero movie after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
despite telling the BBC that he wasn't keen on working on another superhero film. Zimmer, as usual, doesn't leave much room for criticism.
Friedrich Nietzsche once said, "At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid." Jean Grey in Dark Phoenix seems to be embodying that statement, with the lacklustre motivation that seems to drive her actions. Fans of the series should count themselves lucky that the X-Men franchise didn't end with a terrible movie - just an average one.
That being said, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is still a decent one-time watch, and it isn't the worst way to spend your time and money.