By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)
After nineteen years and twelve feature films, Fox’s X-Men movie franchise has reached the end. Though not all of the movies have been winners, 2000’s franchise opener, X-Men, deserves much credit for launching a successful new era for Marvel Comics film adaptations. Without X-Men, audiences might have waited even longer for a Marvel Cinematic Universe to develop. But, let’s not dwell too much on the past and all of the possible tangent timelines/futures/presents, etc., I must discuss how Fox and writer/director Simon Kinberg have concluded the saga.
As has been the trend in the latter X-Men installments, Dark Phoenix takes place a decade following the events of the previous movie. The year is 1992 and Dr. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his team of X-Men and X-Women have finally succeeded in proving that not all mutants wish to conquer the world. In fact, whenever or wherever needed, the X-team will suit up and arrive to save the day. Such is the case when a space shuttle mission goes awry and heads for a disastrous outcome. Led by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult), the heroes head out into space to rescue a group of astronauts from a giant solar flare which could destroy the shuttle and the group aboard. When Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) must venture out into space to help save the astronauts, she gets swept up into the solar flare and is believed to be dead.
However, Grey manages to inexplicably survive and returns home safely. There is a huge problem, though. The amount of energy absorbed by Grey unleashes a side of Grey’s personality that was once restrained by Dr. Xavier’s intervention. As a result, Grey’s mental stability breaks down as does her ability to control her incredible powers. It is up to the rest of the X-Men to stop and protect Grey before she wreaks havoc and causes great harm to all of humanity and mutant kind.
Based on The Dark Phoenix Saga by John Byrne, Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, and characters created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Simon Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix attempts to give the comic story arc a proper cinematic adaption and give the franchise a powerful send-off, but mostly fails on both counts. Though the movie has some compelling and thrilling moments, it also has its share of slow and dull screen time and a story that just isn’t cohesive. It also doesn’t help at all that some of Kinberg’s creative ideas are either painfully or laughably bad.
The performances by the mostly returning cast is a rather mixed bag. Though most of the key characters have some intriguing and gripping scenes, there are also some obvious ones where said actor or actress comes across as apathetic. Both Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender (Magneto) are guilty of this. As talented as both actors are, there are some definite scenes were it is clear that they are simply fulfilling a contractual obligation. James McAvoy, who portrays Dr. Charles Xavier, performs mostly well, but does show some creative strain in a few scenes.
As for the rest of the cast, most of the other X-Men have so little to do, except for angrily or fearfully voicing their opinions on the movie’s situation. They all have some cool action scenes, but mostly serve a superficial purpose. Actor Tye Sheridan is given more to do than the rest, only because he is the love interest of Jean Grey and has a more personal stake. He manages to look like he actually gives a damn. I will also say that actress Sophie Turner also puts forth a valiant effort as Jean Grey and brings a furious intensity to the role.
As for Jessica Chastain, who portrays a nameless villain, she gets slighted perhaps the most. Though she serves as a devil’s advocate of sorts for Jean, there is no real, further development. This problem really is a damn shame and a waste of such a talented actress.
And a damn shame is the perfect way to describe how this utterly disappointing movie turned out. Though I did not totally despise the film, I feel that the source material offers so much potential for a fantastic movie. However, this potential gets squandered in favor of a mostly shallow superhero action flick. I pretty much felt the same way with X-Men: Apocalypse, but at least in that case, it seems like the filmmakers and actors put forth some effort and passion into that movie. Dark Phoenix comes across as a lame duck conclusion to a mostly enjoyable franchise and a ground-breaking one at that. It is an absolute damn shame that it doesn’t get the send-off it deserves.