The final chapter of the existing X-Men franchise finds itself too far removed from what makes the X-Men great in the first place.
Read my reviews of previous X-Men films:
X-Men: First Class
X-Men: Days of Future Past
More fizzle than sizzle, more "not" than "hot," the latest X-Men film, "Dark Phoenix" is flawed more than the characters at its core. This is the 12th overall X-film (counting the Wolverine and Deadpool movies), and the fourth in the "new" canon of films that began in 2011 with Bryan Singer's "X-Men: First Class." As has been reported, it's also the last X-Men film with this cast of actors, and the final X-Men film we'll ever see under 20th Century Fox (with it's sale to Disney, it is an absolute certainty that we'll see a Disney-fied X-reboot in the coming years).
And if there is one word that describes this latest, last effort, it's "fatigue." The actors seem to be phoning it in, and for how energetic the "First Class" reboot was, even James McAvoy (Professor X) and Michael Fassbender (Magneto) seem to be running on steam. And don't get me started on Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique/Raven), who barely had a role in "X-Men: Apocalypse" and here seems not able to wait to shed this franchise from her current workload, now that she's a bona fide A-Lister (she had signed on to this franchise pre-"Hunger Games").
But the lack of trying seems most evident in the limp direction and uninspired adaptation of this story...a story, which, by the way, is one of the coolest and most successful arcs in the comic book. The story of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and her turn into the "Dark Phoenix" is a story that was attempted in the forgotten "X-Men 3: The Final Stand" and isn't given much more justice this time around either. As it goes, a cosmic force injects Jean Grey and enhances her already impressive abilities, making her the most powerful mutant in the universe. Will Jean be able to harness her dark urges or will they overcome her, hurting the ones she loves in the process?
X-Men has always been one of the most popular and successful comic books in part because of its complexities...where other comic books dealt with clearly defined "heroes" and "villains," the X-Universe existed in the gray area. At its crux is Professor X and Magneto, two supreme mutants with two completely different philosophies on how their mutant abilities should be shared with the world. As Professor X wants it, mutant abilities are a "gift," and he has dedicated his life to making his gifted students learn how to apply their abilities for the greater good. Magneto on the other hand, sees mutation as evolution, and those granted with super-powers need to make sure that they are not oppressed by "lesser" beings who simply can never be trusted to accept them as part of society. Their worldviews were both shaped by their upbringings, but these "heady" differences is what the entire franchise was built upon.
And the early films possessed these complexities, but they are gone, gone, gone. With "Apocalypse" and now in "Dark Phoenix," the X-Men have devolved into clearly defined "good" and "bad" guys, and their adventures don't require much thinking. Why veer away from the one thing that makes you different, that sets you apart from other super-hero movies? Let's hope that Disney can get this world back on track and return to its intellectual and socially-conscious roots.
As a brain-less adventure, "Dark Phoenix" does work. We're given some cool action sequences, and most characters are given their moment in the proverbial sun. Sadly, though, Jessica Chastain's alien doppleganger is a complete waste, and really undercuts the original "Dark Phoenix" story. That storyline was an internal struggle that Jean had within herself, but here Chastain gives the viewer a clear villain to root against.
That's what it boils down to: The X-Men, at their best, are all about internal struggle, not external. "Dark Phoenix" exists on the outside, a solid action piece that is as hollow as they come.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi.
Run Time: 1 hour 53 minutes.
Starring: Sophie Turner, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee.
Written by Simon Kinberg ("X-Men: Days of Future Past," "X-Men: Apocalypse").
Directed by Simon Kinberg (feature-film debut).
"Dark Phoenix" opens everywhere on Friday, June 7th, 2019.
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