X-Men: Dark Phoenix Movie Review: A bland end to a 20-year run
Sophie Turner shines in a film filled with severely underwritten characters and listless dialogues
Thirteen years ago, Simon Kinberg wrote X-Men: The Last Stand, adapting it from two different comics of which one was the The Dark Phoenix saga of writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne. Then Kinberg, who was pained by the criticism from both fans and reviewers, wrote X-Men: Days of Future Past in which he wiped away the entire timeline of The Last Stand. While Days of Future Past had a convoluted storyline, there was genuine warmth and earnestness in telling a story with gravitas that was appreciated by everyone who had criticised him for his previous film. Now with X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Kinberg has taken a second stab at the Dark Phoenix saga, and… I would rather have watched The Last Stand again.
Cast: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender
Director: Simon Kinberg
For all its faults, The Last Stand had two acting behemoths in Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen who really brought out the pained, strained, complex friendship of Professor X and Magneto to the fore. We have seen some of the best moments in this rebooted franchise when James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender's characters are in the same frame, but with each successive film, this magic has only dwindled. Where The Last Stand had at least two powerful moments — a lone Wayfarer sunglass of Cyclops and the disintegration of Professor X — Dark Phoenix doesn't have even one.
Each film in this new franchise has been set in a separate decade. This film is set in the 90s, 1992 to be specific, a seminal year in world history that saw the collapse of the Soviet Union, breakup of the Balkans... Yet, the same world events that were important in the narratives of First Class and Days of Future Past hardly seem to influence the narrative here. This is odd, as the whole reason why the X-Men are so beloved is on account of their views on social issues, and of course, their status as outsiders. The only thing that is reflective of the period this film is set in, is the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in the film but it is more a function of the story.
Saying goodbye is always tough. And yet, Fox did it splendidly with Logan. Marvel did this with Avengers: Endgame. This last ever movie of the X-Men, under the Fox brand, however, is on autopilot mode. This is best reflected in Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique and Jessica Chastain's surprise character, both of who turn in average performances. X-Men has some of the most diverse mutants ever created and yet, not one new character is introduced here. There is a thread about how Charles Xavier has become a self-centered arrogant person, and this has loads of potential. The character is, after all, one of the most egoistic persons in the Marvel comics and is supposed to be a hero. Yet, it is scuppered with listless dialogue, and even more listless acting from McAvoy. In yet another nod to comics, Genosha, the mutant island given by the US Government to Magneto and the mutants, is shown, but again, it’s a thread that goes nowhere.
But even amid the debris, there are some things that salvage the film. Michael Fassbender still proves what a terrific actor he is when it comes to showing raw anger. Also, suffice it to say his Magneto gets some of the coolest action scenes in the film. And of course, we have to talk about Sophie Turner's portrayal of Jean Grey. She is terrific too. Vulnerable and strong in equal measure, her ability to hold your attention speaks loads about her acting capability even though once again, Jean Grey gets an underwritten black-or-white character. I really do hope that Marvel finds a place for Turner as either Jean Grey or Invisible Girl, when it gets the franchise, because she really seems to understand these largely bland but high-powered characters.
It has been a 20-year run for Fox with the X-Men franchise, and I suppose it’s fair to say that there have been more good moments than bad. And yet, for a franchise that legitimately could be said to be the bedrock for the current success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this isn’t a worthy goodbye at all. This phoenix is dead on arrival.