Dark Phoenix (2019)
Director: Simon Kinberg
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
Synopsis: Jean Grey begins to develop incredible powers that corrupt and turn her into a Dark Phoenix. Now the X-Men will have to decide if the life of a team member is worth more than all the people living in the world.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language)
Runtime: 1 hr 53 min
Release Date: June 7, 2019
Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there was the X-Men--a franchise launched by 20th Century Fox in 2000 that breathed new life into the superhero genre at a time when audiences were emotionally down from the campy 90's fare that ended with the disastrous Batman and Robin (Joel Schumacher, 1997). Sure, Christopher Nolan had a major impact on the genre resurgence with Batman Begins in 2005, but a lot of credit also needs to given to X-Men--a film that served as much as a character drama as it did a superhero film. In the almost 20 years since then, the franchise has evolved--seeing its fair share of highs and lows, and with Disney's acquisition of Fox last year, Dark Phoenix is the last in an era of standalone X-Men films. So one had to wonder how the long-running series would end--on a high or low note.
Dark Phoenix is a "do-over", if you will, of the story of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) losing control of her suppressed immense physic power--a plot thread featured in X-Men: The Last Stand that was largely panned for its rushed inclusion amidst the larger mutant cure storyline. This time around, her story is given full focus, as we learn about her past and (again) the actions Prof. Xavier (James McAvoy) believed were needed to protect her from herself and others. There is some good character drama here--Jean is confused, angry, hurt, and betrayed all at once, which leads to harmful consequences inflicted on those around her. She's naturally motivated and we as an audience empathize with her, especially since we know part of it is out of her control. We also see Xavier's side--a man who just wanted to help and protect this young girl--even if it meant hiding the truth from her. It's a very complex dilemma--whether by hiding the painful truth from someone you hurt or protect them--and it's one that certainly has real modern world applications.
Because of Xavier's decision with Jean and her eventual actions, a conflict erupts amongst the X-Men, some taking Xavier's side and wanting to protect Jean and others wanting to kill her to save the greater good. Indeed, the film could alternatively be titled X-Men: Civil War, and it does produce some interesting drama from this, but it's short lived and not nearly as engrossing as one would hope.
And sadly, beyond those two elements--Jean and Xavier's character dynamic and the internal conflict in the X-Men, there's not much for Dark Phoenix to offer audiences. The story itself is very thinly plotted and offers no surprises, next to no humor, and bland action sequences. Characters like Magneto and Quicksilver--who were given some familial ties in Apocalypse are left by the wayside. Jessica Chastain, who plays the antagonist Vuk, is a largely one dimensional and uncompelling villain, as her motives are a bit muddled and her presence feels more shoehorned in than actually warranted. It's strange, since writer-director Simon Kinberg co-wrote X-Men: Days of Future Past--arguably one of the strongest films in the franchise as well as X-Men: Apocalypse. But the fact that this is his directorial debut (after the falling out with Bryan Singer) and the film was being produced in the middle of Fox being bought out by Disney, maybe one shouldn't be overly surprised.
Ultimately, the biggest disappointment about Dark Phoenix is that it just doesn't feel much like an X-Men film--and not because "X-Men" isn't in the title. Aside from the ones mentioned, there are few quality character moments--and the ones that do occur feel rushed--and the action is very dryly shot and choreographed. Finally the score, surprisingly composed by Hans Zimmer--his first superhero score since Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Zack Snyder, 2016)--was strong and beautiful at times but unfortunately didn't capture the tone of the X-Men franchise, not even touching on the hallmark X-Men theme we know and love.
Dark Phoenix, though it possesses a few positive qualities from Jean and Xavier's relationship and a fresh internal conflict in the X-Men, suffers from a thin, joyless script and dry action sequences to make for a forgettable entry in X-Men franchise. Though Fox's beloved franchise ended on a low note, one can always look back on the highs--they surely won't be forgotten.
Written by Anthony Watkins, June 9, 2019