Dark Phoenix (2019)
Two and Half Stars

Photo Credit: Doane Gregory - © TM & © 2017 Marvel & Subs. TM and © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Dark Phoenix isn’t so much a bad movie as an exhausted one.  One by one, the filmmakers trot out the old franchise standbys like an uncle who regifts the same fishing story every Christmas:  The movie opens with the usual dreamy, ham-fisted narration, wherein the main characters are exposed as inhabitants on the Island of Misfit Superheroes.  They work and worry to save a world that will never fully embrace them.  Yada, yada, yada.  Things blow up, tempers fray, only to get rinsed and repeated with the next film.  Yeah, James McAvoy and Sophie Turner do a great job of scowling and crying, and there are a few moments where the script develops a hint of a heartbeat, but it’s still well past time for this franchise to leave the pitcher’s mound and head for the showers.

Hell, this ain’t even the first time these movies have tried to tackle this exact same storyline.  X3: The Last Stand covered Jean Grey’s sudden infusion of cosmic superpowers and their resulting emotional toll.  Phoenix covers the same verse, only a little bit louder and a little bit worse:  It’s 1992, and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) presides over his merry mutants as they are tasked with rescuing a wayward space shuttle.  The team manages to retrieve the stranded astronauts, but not before Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is nearly killed by a mysterious energy ribbon.  Jean is brought back to Earth, where she soon displays a staggering amount of telekinetic power and emotional instability.  Her fellow mutants can’t decide whether to back her or attack her, with Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) on the warpath, while Xavier and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) lead the peace-seekers.

Many critics have hack-and-slashed this movie as an all-out bomb, but I didn’t feel quite that extreme about it. The special effects still pop and we still get a few decent mutant brawls.  It’s always cool to see Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) bamf around and do an assortment of other cool shit.  Fassbender brings gravitas to Magneto, while McAvoy and Turner display more conviction than this material probably deserves.  I will agree with the general consensus on one point:  Dark Phoenix is an attractive package that adds absolutely nothing to the franchise.

That’s a shame, because the earlier X-Men movies found a nice niche by depicting mutants as frustrated outsiders who were ostracized because of how they were born.  (X2 was a particular highlight:  “Have you tried…not being a mutant?”)  They were fun, especially when they focused on Hugh Jackman’s lumbersexual Wolverine.  Unfortunately, writer-director Simon Kinberg tries to dip from that same well and finds nothing but dry cobblestones.  We can only watch so many X-related stories about misunderstood loners before the whole thing grows monotonous.

This movie brings forth an obvious parallel to the Spider-Man franchise, which had grown saggy and soggy with the Andrew Garfield movies.  When Marvel brought Spidey into its cinematic fold, it was a fresh injection of life into their flagship character.  The X-Men are also about to rejoin their comic book family, and hopefully this will do much the same for them.  It’s past time for Wolverine and Magneto to interact with Dr. Strange and Dr. Doom.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe has spoiled us for anything less.  As it is, Dark Phoenix feels like a bland, listless finale to a host of iconic truly iconic characters.

Author: Todd Wofford

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