After a very disappointing last outing in X-Men Apocalypse, the X-Men franchise returns in the hope of returning to the glory days with a Dark Phoenix. Dark Phoenix and the X-Men franchise is a film and a franchise that has seen (at the height of the superhero genre in Hollywood) so many problems surrounding it. Instead of the buzz for the film being ramped up; it died down – this could be due to some questionable trailers or due to many, many issues which include (but are not limited too) delays, reshoots and leaked scripts. Add in Disneys acquisition of Fox and all of its projects – it leaves Dark Phoenix in a sorry state even before it was released. And as if that isn’t enough to understand how weird this film feels and how much it has to do to work, Dark Phoenix is a direct remake of a previous film in the X-Men saga – The Last Stand. A film considered by many (myself included) to be not only the worst film in the franchise but the reason the main timeline and the original X-Men saga died out.
So in essence, going into this film: one thing was clear, this is the end of the X-Men – leading to a very important question. What’s the point? But, after all the hard work the franchise has done these past eight years to bring it to where it is now, I gave the film a chance
In 1992, we find our heroes as they are enter space on a rescue mission. After saving all the astronauts, the rescue mission goes wrong and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is hit by a cosmic force in its full power; turning her into the most powerful mutant and awakening the Phoenix. Upon returning home, all signs point to Jean Grey being no different, and the X-Men go about their day reaping in the praise they are receiving for saving the astronauts – Professor X (James McAvoy) enjoying this the most. However it all comes to a head later on; while Charles is receiving a medal celebrating the X-Men, Jean Grey and the ‘new’ X-Men are partying when she loses control. As she loses control, she becomes more powerful – learning things about herself that she can’t ignore. Not knowing who she is, or how to contain what she has become, she looks for answers leading to the X-Men getting hurt. Professor X must stop her before she takes a path she can’t come back from.
There is a lot to unravel when it comes to Dark Phoenix, simply put, Dark Phoenix is a valiant effort but still not good enough. A first-time director, muddled focus and simplistic story line stops the Dark Phoenix from emerging in its fully glory. Whilst far from the disaster many expected, it’s lack of ambition holds it back – just to get it out of the way now, it will impossible not to compare this film as a remake. Dark Phoenix is better than The Last Stand – but it’s clear The Last Stand’s impact still affected Dark Phoenix and at times it learnt nothing from Last Stand. Whilst it is a bolder, scarier, more character-driven take on the story line, due to the failures of Last Stand; it seems as though Dark Phoenix doesn’t want to take any creative risks (there clearly was one intended but isn’t a risk if you’ve watched the trailer). Dark Phoenix is the last X-Men film; it should have gone big and bold – not in the cinematic sense but more in the choices the story makes. Like I said; it is a more character-driven film, with the intended focus to be on the X-Men and Jean Grey until it’s not. Ultimately; the Dark Phoenix goes out without a bang, it sacrifices any strides previous films have made with characters for ease, it chooses to forget the end of the last film to set up new motivations and in order to have a ‘big bad’. As the film progresses, it’s story-telling becomes more simplistic and plot-points are literally resolved with a nod of the head. And the trouble the film had off-screen pours over onto the big-screen as re shoots are clear.
And that is why this film is confusing; just as The Last Stand fell into certain traps; so to does Dark Phoenix. Simon Kinberg not only wrote Dark Phoenix but also wrote X-Men: The Last Stand, and yet somehow it fails in the exact same way. The film never focuses on Jean Grey and her relationship with her team; her family. Essentially the emotional core of the story is non-existent; Cyclopse is side-lined when it comes down to the nitty and gritty of the film, it never has any depth past face-value. It definitely tries to do this with a story line between her and Charles but it is never carried through past him and her, we never
see feel her pain, we don’t get to see the other characters’ pain and how they are feeling. We never get to see Jean Grey conflicted with her choices, haunted by her actions; it’s very much onto the next one. And that’s where Simon Kinberg comes into it, in this day and age – when you can watch Thanos fight one-hundred superheroes and not question it. Throughout this film; power is illustrated in two ways; the first, a flaky face with the light shining through and secondly, by characters pulling faces and pushing their hands out (I’m not kidding; you can clearly see that Sophie Turner is just standing there with her hands out – even when she flies you can tell there’s a line above her pulling her up).
Dark Phoenix actually starts of really well; the first act really gives the audience hope on how the film will play out, it goes for a tone that is in line what I presumed was to come. We see Jean as a girl; giving her some trauma that we will build up on later. They finally show the X-Men in all their glory, showing them being the heroes. The first act is great! The story line threads you see in the trailer are created and its focus is the X-Men – we see Charles’ behaviour, the world’s reception to the X-Men, Jean and the ‘new’ X-Men dealing with her accident, Hank’s eyes widening to the bigger problems. These are plot-threads that I expected to build and grow as we see Jean Grey spiral out of control, focusing on the X-Men. But then things change.
I give Dark Phoenix a 5.5/10 and so I don’t think it is fair to just rubbish this film. I really enjoyed the first act, and I really liked the old casts’ character interactions. Hank is given some good character development and he may be the one character that surprised me the most. Charles brings his A-game and his character shines as he (for the first time) isn’t the good guy. Unfortunately; this isn’t carried out as much as the first act hints it will be but James McAvoy smashes what he is given out of the park as he always does – and honestly every actor puts a shift in. And, I really like that at the very least; Dark Phoenix is a more subtle, calmer take on the story line and gives us these interactions between characters that I have wanted since First Class. There is even a call-back to the film that filled me with joy. I like that we got as we have seen these dynamics between characters.
Jessica Chastain’s character appears and problems come with her. Believe me when I say her and ‘her kind’ appear outta nowhere. Yes – you heard that right; ‘her kind’. And the tone of the story and focus of the story shifts (😉) along with her introduction. It goes from being an infighting between the team, to a ‘bad guy has come’. And the story becomes very basic as all those story-threads that it created are fizzled out as the film chugs along. Not only are the plot points the film creates in the first act dropped, but also the ones it creates as it moves forwards are forgotten about. Jean Grey tries to control what she has become. leading her to Magneto and then Jessica Chastain. A one-dimensional, un-motivated, confusing character that doesn’t even get that much screen-time with Jean. Leading to what feels like a film just (sadly) dragging itself over the finish line. It’s sad because Jean Grey never has her time to shine, her Dark Phoenix moment, her moment with the team. It isn’t that she is being controlling by what she was born with but instead; she is just being used by what entered her. Most of the film is meant to be about Jean trying to understand who she is and why this has happened to her, but simply telling us shes suffering isn’t good enough. We need to see and feel her pain and it needs to be done with interactions with her family, not with Magneto – who means nothing to her.
So, like I said in the introduction I gave Dark Phoenix a chance, and because of my low expectations – although this is the end of the franchise, it isn’t one I particularly care about.
Thanks for reading. I have done so many other reviews; so please go and check them out.