The X-Men films have held quite the interesting place in pop culture. The first film premiered in 2000, back before superheroes took Hollywood by storm. It was a relatively grounded affair by today’s standards, but it helped launch a series about one of Marvel’s most popular teams. Over the years, the X-Men have had great films (X2, First Class, Days of Future Past), not so great films (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: Apocalypse) and even found time to experiment (Deadpool, Logan.) Sadly, Dark Phoenix falls into that second category.
Dark Phoenix, picking up ten years after the events of Apocalypse, features the X-Men-who at this point are worldwide celebrities-embarking on a rescue mission to save the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. During the course of the mission, Jean Grey is hit with what appears to be a solar flare, resulting in her powers increasing. However, it turns out that the “flare” was a phenomenal cosmic force, and a group of aliens comes to Earth to claim that force for themselves. To make matters worse, Jean’s powers spiral wildly out of control, corrupting her and leaving the X-Men divided on how to handle her.
If this all sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because this is the second stab at adapting the Dark Phoenix Saga, after the much-maligned X-Men: The Last Stand. Screenwriter Simon Kinberg (who penned several X-Men films, including The Last Stand) steps behind the camera in his directorial debut, and it’s clear that he’s out of his depth.
Most of Kinberg’s camerawork is handheld and lingers on conversations between characters. This leads to shaky, blurry action sequences that feel claustrophobic-particularly in the third act which mostly takes place in a train. To his credit, Kinberg crafts a stellar sequence with the Endeavor rescue, as the X-Men deploy their myriad powers to both stabilize the shuttle and rescue the astronauts. It’s a shame that no other action sequence comes close to those heights. The writing doesn’t fare much better; characters often state the obvious (“My emotions make me strong!”) or are saddled with truly clunky dialogue. Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) drops the lone F-Bomb in the movie, and I burst out laughing because it was so awkwardly delivered.
It’s a shame because the cast of this movie is stellar. Sheridan’s Cyclops, alongside Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) deserve far better than to be regulated to mere window dressing. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) makes the most of an underwritten role and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) serves little purpose than to be the catalyst for the main plot. This leaves Professor X (James McAvoy) and Jean (Sophie Turner) to carry the main emotional bulk of the film. However, because the audience has only spent the grand total of one movie with Jean, there is little emotional investment-which is damning because she is the de facto protagonist of the film.
While not the worst X-Men film, or even the worst film I’ve seen this year, Dark Phoenix is a disappointing finale to one of the biggest superhero film series. The cast, and the fans, deserved far better than yet another poor adaptation of a classic X-Men story.
Final Verdict: 2 out of 5 Phoenix wings. Fire and life incarnate, this is not.