Release: June 7, 2019
Director: Simon Kinberg
Writer: Simon Kinberg
Starring: James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr/Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast, Sophie Turner as Jean Grey/Phoenix, and Jessica Chastain as Vuk
Running Time: 114 minutes
This final pre-merger Fox-produced X-Men flick is a loose adaptation of the classic Dark Phoenix saga. Set nearly a decade after the events of X-Men: Apocalypse, this film finds the team dealing with an increasingly volatile Jean Grey, as well as a potential alien invasion by the D’Bari.
The X-Men film franchise had a hell of a run. Predating the modern superhero movie trend kicked off by the MCU by nearly a decade, the series certainly had its fair share of missteps. One can say what they will about flicks like X-Men: The Last Stand, and even this particular picture, but at the end of the day I have always felt, and will continue to feel, that Fox did better with the X-Men franchise than Marvel Studios has done with its stable of heroes. I’ve heard people complain that these films are too dour, but I read the X-Men when I was a kid, and I find myself wondering if the people leveling those criticisms ever did the same. During its classic period under writers like Chris Claremont, Fabian Nicieza, and Scott Lobdell, they were not happy comics. They were often dour soap operas with spandex and superpowers. Even the classic 90s cartoon series could veer into dark territory. One of the team members dies in the first episode. Even in its worst entries, the Fox X-Men franchise resisted turning into a brightly coloured mess of poorly choreographed fight sequences and Joss Whedon dialog. That being said, Dark Phoenix is not, in the mind of this reviewer, one of those bad entries. However, it’s not exactly a good entry either. It just kind of is.
Despite dragging a little here and there, the film is decently paced overall. I think trimming about 10 minutes or so from the running time could have helped somewhat, but everyone has to keep shooting for that two hour mark, which Dark Phoenix misses by about six minutes. There are also some very awkward moments of “woke” dialogue from Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique that feel very out of place. I, of course, am talking mostly about her sudden exposition about the women always saving the men on the team, and the name of the team needing to be changed to X-Women. By this point in the film, the only action sequence of consequence that had taken place involved Nightcrawler saving Jean Grey from the airless cold of space. Now, unless Nightcralwer has suddenly been retconned to identify as a woman, the dialogue makes no sense and simply renders the character of Mystique as little more than an insufferable, shrill harpy. After my first viewing of X-Men: Apocalypse, I felt that the addition of Alexandra Shipp as Storm was a weak point of the series. Her indistinct faux African accent is inconsistent, and her obvious struggle to maintain it continues to render her performance flat. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender once again offer strong performances as Charles Xavier and Magneto, and Sophie Turner does an admirable job as the film’s main, and title character. Jessica Chastain has a decent turn as a villain, it’s just too bad that her character ultimately feels like a throwaway. Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Dark Phoenix is the early film death of Mystique, which prevents the movie from getting mired in another rehash of the Mystique/Beast/Magneto/Xavier love triangle (love rhombus, perhaps). The special effects are done well, it’s unfortunate for the series that going forward, it will now be using the same discount effects department that has been handling the MCU since Doctor Strange.
The biggest problem with Dark Phoenix is one of scope and scale. The Dark Phoenix Saga was a storyline that ran for something like 10 issues in the comics. It’s an epic story line where the fate of the entire universe hangs in the balance. Unfortunately, you don’t really see much of that here. The most you get is a hint, maybe a taste. Ultimately, Dark Phoenix comes across feeling like an opening chapter in a much larger story. Everything about it, down to the closing narration and the appearance of the flaming phoenix in the distant sky in the final shot screams “this is not over yet.” This does, unfortunately, render one of the biggest criticisms of this film correct: it is an unsatisfying conclusion to the franchise. However, I would surmise that it is more likely a casualty of the house of mouse’s lust for total control of the box office. This was probably intended to be part one of a two, if not three film arc. Now, the question is what becomes of that New Mutants film. Will it actually make its April 2020 release date, or will it be delayed again and then quietly shelved? My gut tells me it will be the latter.
While not the abject train wreck that would make me get down on my knees and kiss Mickey’s feet that I was promised, it was still ultimately a disappointing movie. A first part of an arc that will never see completion. Almost two hours of buildup to a climax that will never come. In some ways, I think it just being complete and total garbage would have been preferable.