Dark Phoenix (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 114 Minutes
Director: Simon Kinberg
Cast: James McAvoy, Sophie Turner, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult
Okay, look. I’m sure a good few of you know me. I’ve been a fan of the X-Men franchise since I was a kid and despite some of the fallbacks and bad decisions made from time to time, I’ve always had solid faith in it. Heck, I was one of the few out there who seemed to really enjoy X-Men: Apocalypse despite some of its understandable problems. But I think we all know about this Disney/Fox merger because since the rights to these iconic characters are now back in the hands of Marvel, this pretty much makes Dark Phoenix the final film in this series by default, regardless of whether or not the filmmakers had any intention to continue anyway. And if the seemingly troubled production, the return of the Dark Phoenix storyline following the travesty that was The Last Stand, and the huge reshoots say anything to us, it's that this movie looked to be a dud from the outset. I can’t say I blame them 100%. It must really suck having to try to find some conceivable way to cap the series off in a short amount of time after shooting was already done, but I don’t see the point in trying to salvage anything if it means detracting from what was already there and established to us. I’m just going to review Dark Phoenix as it was given to us on release and treat it as fairly as anything I go to see, and……..HOO BOY. This is a bit of a disappointment.
Set 10 years after Apocalypse, the X-Men are now seen as renowned heroes under Charles Xavier where it seems as though most of the discrimination between humans and mutants has somewhat died down. The X-Men are sent on a mission to save a group of stranded astronauts who seem to have been in direct contact with a solar flame, which Jean Grey accidentally becomes engulfed by. She and the team survive upon their return back on Earth where Jean seems supposedly fine, but what the team don’t know is that Jean is now in control of abilities that no other mutant has ever been able to possess. Also, dealing with the mental stress of her new abilities which unlocks clues to her past that Xavier has since blocked out of her memory for her own safety, she goes on a confused villainous rampage, where the X-Men now have to suffer the consequences of their own actions: having to fight one of their own.
I’m not going to go on long about this since I think anyone with knowledge of who the X-Men are already know the iconic Dark Phoenix storyline and how much of X-Men: The Last Stand completely destroyed any qualities that the iconic story in the Marvel Comics ever had. I didn’t hate that film as much as others (I think the 1st hour of it is alright before Jean shows up), but it was clear after Days of Future Past basically wiped the timeline slate clean that another attempt at the story needed to be looked upon, because it’s such an interesting idea. The concept of these heroes who are basically the world’s beacon of hope having their own perceptions changed when one of their own turns bad and threatens to turn the balance of peace between humans and mutants is something that can be gripping from a storytelling and character perspective. And though Dark Phoenix does try to recreate the strengths of that story, it can’t help but try to attempt that story without feeling like its betraying what these characters stood for in the first place. I don’t know if it’s just me, but most of the characters in this movie feels weirdly out of character just for the sake of forcing out conflict which should feel natural given the repercussions of the events that take place. Raven, played by Jennifer Lawrence, feels strangely out of character, seemingly starting the blame on Charles Xavier for putting everyone in danger, even though it’s very clear that he only ever cared for the safety of the mutants that inhabit his school. The same goes for Hank, played by Nicholas Hoult, who I can tell is somewhat trying with the material at hand here, but everything feels so unnatural in his delivery not because his acting is terrible for anything, but because the screenplay is such an unnatural mess that I can’t help but feel sorry for him. The main issue with Dark Phoenix is that the characters are either underdeveloped like Quicksilver, Storm and Nightcrawler who barely have anything to do except be punching bags to Jean during action scenes, or just feel weirdly out of character in the cases of the previously mentioned Raven, Beast and even Xavier himself who really shouldn’t be disciplined for his actions when all he ever wanted was to keep Jean safe, since her own past was so dark and so tragic that it would be too much for her to handle, especially with her new abilities at handle. True, it could be argued that Xavier should have never blocked out her memories in the first place so that she could learn from her mistakes and troubled past to grow into the strong heroine she’s supposed to be, but in the moment, it all feels unfair to place the blame on one man who really doesn’t need the stress given the nightmare they are living at that moment in time when it’s really the fault of the villain in this movie.
Oh yeah, I actually forgot to mention there is actually a VILLAIN in this movie. Jessica Chastain plays a new character in this movie who is actually an alien species whose home was destroyed by the same solar flare that gave Jean her new abilities and warped her mind to the dark side. She has some of the ingredients to make for somewhat of an interesting villain since she has an idea of a motivation behind her actions, especially when it comes to manipulating the clearly mentally stressed and confused Jean, but her character is so fundamentally bland on a visual and characteristic level that it’s too hard to care. Her backstory is barely touched upon and any information we know about her is done in such a boring exposition dump that basically goes against any of the rules that should apply to storytelling in the film format: SHOW, DON’T TELL! Chastain’s performance, along with most of the performances in the film feel so bland, that you could just tell most of the cast were basically done with anything related to the X-Men. None of them aren’t bad, per se, but they show so little enthusiasm of energy that I wonder if they were trying here. I partially blame how dull the screenplay in this film, since it’s so devoid of any charm, fun, or any energy to keep things engaging that it more or less detracts from anything that makes these characters or stories enjoyable or special. It’s also an incredibly clumsy mess structurally, with some characters like Fassbender’s Magneto barely having any real significance to the story at hand, along with how abundantly clear it was that so many changes have been made throughout production given the constant reshoots and completely rewritten ending that it feels like 3 different films put into one so it’s all tonally jumbled as a result. Sophie Turner feels like the only actress here who is trying, definitely giving a genuinely good performance considering the material she’s given and the fact that she studied into some Mental Health issues such as Schizophrenia helps make her trauma feel somewhat believable even if it gets just plain silly.
I might as well start talking about the technical side of the filmmaking here since a lot of the screenplay’s evident changes kind of need to be talked about here. Technically speaking, Dark Phoenix isn’t a terrible looking film. Everything is decently shot, has some solid editing considering the absolute nightmare it likely was having to overhaul like 50% of the film months before release, and even though the CGI can look way to overbearing at points, nothing about it looked bad. It’s solid work here and I only give my condolences to the talented crew whose work really needed to be given to better written material. The score is also serviceable, but sadly doesn’t feature any unique themes or memorable moments, many of which came from John Ottman’s original compositions who really should have come back to do this one instead of Hans Zimmer. The reason I bring all of this stuff up really is because while the filmmaking craft here is fine, you can clearly tell that the film had so many reshoots to the point where you can tell during the entire movie where some things have either been switched around or completely changed. There are many shots and scenes from the trailers including a Church scene and final battle inside a Government Building which don’t feature in the final film at all, where they are now replaced with a scene in a bar, along with a very messy battle on a moving train which claimed to have been changed because the ending seemed to derivative to Civil War’s conclusion, but it was all clearly done because of how atrocious the test screenings were. Some could also speculate that Disney’s merger with Fox, meaning the team would have to find some way to wrap up things with this series could have also contributed to these issues. In the end, though I don’t feel reshoots or general production history of a film should normally be looked upon and criticised since reshoots happen all the time on major blockbusters, I really do feel the need to bring them up here since it’s all so glaringly obvious and actually detracts from the experience itself. It’s a very clear example of how a film’s production should never been handled. The biggest offenders of the hellish production could be left to interpretation whether it was the director’s creative choices or Disney’s cheeky scheming, but regardless, the handling of it was not good at all.
But really in the end, what else can I say about Dark Phoenix that every other critic and fellow X-men fanatic hasn’t already said by now? It’s been scathed to hell and back and I pretty much agree with everything that is said. It’s a major disappointment of a movie that isn’t a complete disaster given how we were actually given somewhat of a salvageable film out of what can only be a production nightmare, and how credit should be given where it's due with the alright visuals and competent performances, but it all feels wasted on how shallow of an ending this whole thing is to the X-Men franchise. It’s such an underwhelming piece of cinema that feels a bit pointless to be angry at. It feels like it was made by an algorithm that was trying to figure out some way to end this entire series despite having been initially written to be another instalment before the Mouse House came in and basically ruined everything. It’s manufactured, boring, and just not worth the time of way. I’d recommend just skipping this one, but coming from someone who loves these characters and this franchise, I just feel full of ill will and generally apathetic regarding the whole thing. I have nothing else to say on the matter, just don’t bother.
FINAL RATING: 3/10 (BAD)