Recommendation: One of the worst superhero movies of the last decade-plus; an unenjoyable piece of cinema that should have never seen the light of day… if not for its $200 million investment. 1.5/10
IMDB Synopsis: Jean Grey begins to develop incredible powers that corrupt and turn her into a Dark Phoenix, causing the X-Men to decide if her life is worth more than all of humanity.
A lot of strides have been made in the superhero genre in the past decade. They can be exhilarating popcorn fare (Avengers, Aquaman), culturally resonant (Black Panther, Wonder Woman) delightfully off camber (Shazam!, Thor: Ragnarok), or self-serious (Logan, Joker). But X-Men: Dark Phoenix—the inglorious end of this era of X-Men—is none of those things. Reportedly caught in the middle of the Fox acquisition by Disney, it seems like Dark Phoenix could have been prey to budget cuts, development cuts, or lack of direction. Regardless of the origins of the issues, Dark Phoenix remains a boring, borderline unwatchable mess with no stakes, little CGI worth getting up for, and a ton of phoned in performances from A-listers.
Having stopped a megalomaniac bent on world domination and saved humanity from the literal Apocalypse, the bar was set fairly high for the ridiculous for X-Men plots. Dark Phoenix is an origin story for Jean Grey, where she mysteriously absorbs a mysterious and powerful force from space that corrupts her, causing her to lose inhibition and self control. After dredging up childhood trauma, Jean loses accidentally(?) murders Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Cast out from all mutant society, she’s recruited by a race of endangered shape shifting aliens whose leader, Vuk, takes the form of Jessica Chastain. The mutants are divided into those who want to kill Jean as the Dark Phoenix, and those who think she can be saved. Ultimately, all disparate factions come together to take out the real threat, Vuk.
The plot is surprisingly straightforward, yet extremely convoluted in its telling. It’s as if the studio needed to fill out scenes between action set pieces, yet they didn’t think to hire writers. More plausibly, the studio changeover either added too many reshoots or not enough, and the film was stuck in limbo somewhere. It’s not the worst thing for a superhero film if it doesn’t reach Shakespearian heights, many related films are fun, with just similarly bad writing (Aquaman, Guardians of the Galaxy). But the cast shows no chemistry (despite being the fourth film in the franchise for many), the CGI is appalling for a $200 million film, and overall seems like a woefully misguided venture.
Ultimately, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a mess. It doesn’t know which audience its for. It’s not deep and rich enough to please fanboys. It’s not visually popping enough to cut through to the masses. It doesn’t utilize its A-list cast in any way, shape or form. After a promising start to the rebooted franchise (X-Men: First Class), Dark Phoenix closes the book on a series of increasingly fraught and poor performing action films. Best to leave this one unwatched and wait for Marvel and Kevin Feige to reboot it five years.
MVP: I don’t know if there is anyone worthy of an MVP here. The film is full of great actors—Sophie Turner, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Nicolas Hoult, Jessica Chastain—but they are all phoning it in, criminally underutilized, or victims of the plot. I suppose Michael Fassbender would get the nod.
Highlights: There are a couple fun sequences with Nightcrawler, but given that it’s a movie set around superheroes, the action feels low rent and the writing is even worse.
Director: Simon Kinberg
Studio: 20th Century Fox (Disney) // Release date: June 7, 2019