‘Dark Phoenix:’ Dies in the Ashes

Rating: 1.5/4

X-Men, for over a decade, has represented the one meaningful alternative to Disney’s cinematic comic empire. The series made Hugh Jackman a megastar, played with time travel in unique fashion for a crossover more fulfilling than Infinity War or Endgame, and demonstrated real stakes. The franchise’s history makes these next few words painful: Director Simon Kinberg‘s Dark Phoenix, the capping of this world, is the tackiest Blockbuster of the last decade and acts as a cliff dive into a worse fate than mediocrity.

Dark Phoenix opens with a young Jean Grey (Summer Fontana) sitting in the back of her parents’ car. Some shoddy country music plays on the car stereo, as mental gymnastics of controlling the radio leads to the death of at least one person. Never in the history of cinema has someone’s music tastes been shamed harder.

The film then flashes forward to 1992 (try to spot any reference to the year, I dare you): Mutants are cheered as heroes and Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) now bears the title of celebrity. Those two components causes Prof. X to send his X-Men: Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Grey (Sophie Turner) into space to save a shuttle’s crew. There, Grey consumes the spacial energy: the Phoenix Force — wrapped around the shuttle.

With a $200 million budget, the tacky appearances of the costumes and CG is truly amazing. Prof X’s school looks stolen from a Wayne Manor spin-off. The Blackbird appears ripped from a low-grade simulation, and the large-scale sequences rely on small-scale stakes — with one battle happening because someone wants to jaywalk. If even half that money went to Hans Zimmer for his work on the score, twas money well spent because the music represents the only above-grade component. That, and the spectacular cast.

Every member of the cast, especially Fassbender, Lawrence, and McAvoy deliver every line with gusto — even as one of them makes a Predator reference (the film doesn’t lack for unintentional entertainment).

The editing by Lee Smith provides zero coverage, as Prof. X routinely conducts conversations with the President of the United States over the phone without a cross-cut to show the President. Then again, Kinberg didn’t even consider that Xavier shouldn’t even need a phone because…. you know…. he possesses telepathic powers.

And really, the massive failure of Dark Phoenix originates in the screenplay. The film teems with wonderful, yet poorly executed ideas. Prof. X assumes a villainous role as a patriarchal attention hungry guru, while Jean Grey and Raven both rebel against Xavier’s “father figure” role with a feminist charge.

A combustible element explodes with the insertion of the amorphous shape-shifting alien, Vuk (Jessica Chastain, a completely wasted talent here). Arriving to Earth in search of the Phoenix Force with the hope of harnessing its power to replenish her now wiped out people, she goads Grey’s burgeoning autonomy with the Phoenix’s near uncontrollable power.

However, these “well-meaning” feminist olive branches mean little because they ultimately crack. In the end, Vuk is the baddie, and a poorly drawn and flat one at that. Her tending to Grey’s feminist spirit can only be betrayed in place of the father figures Grey’s chased throughout the film: her actual dad and Prof. X. In turn, Xavier’s villainous reversal never rises above misguided hubris.

Some of the screenplay’s complications most likely arise from the re-shoots to make the film less like Captain Marvel, and this final installment matches the former with an amazing likeness, especially with regards to a woman’s emotions portrayed as a weakness to be hidden by men rather than a strength.

The “creative” forces involved in Dark Phoenix probably, and disturbingly, see their film as a feminist statement when it uses feminism as an Easter Egg. The result: a tonal mess. Dark Phoenix, for the second time (X-Men: The Last Stand), is misrepresented, poorly written, and stunted in a cinematic form. Worse yet, the shredding of her character comes in a film no one wanted: the fans, the cast, maybe even the studio. The whole affair has the tentpole building obligation of talking to your cousins at Christmas dinner, except with cheaper lights.

6 comments

  1. I’m cruel and bitter?? You dispassionately tore the movie apart like someone at a gun range shredding a paper target with an Uzi. The screenplay was a massive failure according to you but I don’t see you making any constructive suggestions. And, even when you say Spectacular Cast you don’t mean it because every other phrase of drek pulling the movie down makes that statement have as much meaning as flushing a toilet. So no, I don’t think I am being cruel or bitter. If anything I’m plainly signifying that you have no respect in the slightest for actors or writers making a movie you find distasteful in entertaining quality because it’s not a big deal for them really because it’s easy for them. They do it all the time so there must not be any effort anymore. I’ve seen all the X-Men movies and am not a hardcore fan. I’ll be looking forward to this one and I know I’ll enjoy it. But Sadly it wasn’t good enough for you. So, despite your paid opinion, it will entertain a lot of people and make a lot of money and the only opinion that really counts is the audience. But hey, you very likely think anyone who will like the movie is an idiot anyway because they didn’t heed your opinion so they could save their time and money. Bravo.

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    1. I don’t really care how much money a film makes. Doesn’t really affect the validation of my review. Same if other people like it. And I sincerely hope you enjoy Dark Phoenix, my not “bitter” friend.

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  2. Geez. Like throwing packing peanuts against the side of a building. So the “validation” of your review means there’s no flexibility or plausibility of it ever being better than 1.5 stars? The movie is just a bad piece of work and even though it may entertain many and will no doubt be in their DVD collections later, it just didn’t impress you properly?

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  3. Then you must be the kind who has seriously high expectations depending on the subject matter.
    So the movie company’s interpretation of the source material was not sufficient enough. It would be boring
    if they used too much of the source material and didn’t show any sense of creativity according to the times we live in. A variation on a theme is more interesting when the story is tweaked. That was learned the hard way when they remade Psycho because it was basically shot for shot. Do you think screenwriters, like for Dark Phoenix, were just rushing along or maybe they were just trying something different? A lot of people don’t like change or alterations to something they have an interest in. To them it’s unacceptable. Not the purest sense of the material.

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