Review: Dark Phoenix

Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Simon Kinberg
Writers: Simon Kinberg
Composer: Hans Zimmer
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain

Genre: Superhero/Action
Rating: PG-13

After nineteen years and twelve movies, the 20th Century Fox X-Men universe is coming to an abrupt, untimely, and merciful end with a massive whimper. Following in the pretentious tradition of movies that end a series with the name of its lead character (Rambo, Rocky Balboa, Jason Bourne, Logan, The Batman) Dark Phoenix is the final film in the continuity that started with 2000’s X-Men with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. 

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Characters are stabbed with metal shards; creatures disintegrate into rocks; no gore or blood.

Language/Crude Humor: One use of f***, several s***, and mild language throughout.

Drug/Alcohol References: Characters drink alcohol while grieving.

Sexual Content: None.

Spiritual Content: None.

Other Negative Content: None.

Positive Content: Themes of sacrifice and acceptance.

Review

It’s weird that X-Men has stuck around as long as it has. The series effectively died between 2007 and 2009 with Last Stand and Origins effectively driving the franchise into the ground. Then out of nowhere, the Matthew Vaughn led prequel X-Men: First Class was released to broad acclaim and gave the franchise a shot in the arm to earn it another decade to futz around. The side effect of this has been that a franchise that ran out its natural lifespan in the early 2000s has effectively been kept on life support long past its expiration date.

It comes part and partial with all the weird ticks and features that early 2000s blockbusters came with like bad CGI and limited connection to the source material. That’s not to say that every new film in the franchise has been bad. Logan is a modern masterpiece and both Deadpool films are consistently funny (while spoofing just how ridiculous the actual plotlines of these movies are). Mind you, all of this is tempered by the immediate return of all of Fox’s Marvel licenses to Disney now that both companies have merged together.

Dark Phoenix is a decidedly notable film in so far as it represents the final breath of 20th Century Fox’s series before all of these characters are recast and added to the MCU. There’s not really a lot at stake here in regards to the movie’s success or failure. All it really represents is the closing of a book that has been dragged out long past its natural logical endpoint and in that it’s mostly just kind of sad. 

Dark Phoenix is a tired, lifeless zombie of an X-Men film. It lacks the overt awfulness that has defined some of the worst entries in this franchise but at this point, it’s entirely lost the plot of whatever this franchise is supposed to mean. What made the better films in this franchise like X-2, First Class, and Logan work was that while they were lower budget, smaller-scale, and immensely thoughtful superhero films. They weren’t swashbuckling spectacles like Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films of the same era but that they had interesting themes about society, oppression, and acceptance that gave them an edge. 

Dark Phoenix really isn’t about anything. Nominally the movie does start out with a kernel of an interesting idea. Humanity has finally made peace with mutant kind and now Xavier is going out of his way to put his team in the limelight to keep the public’s perception of the X-Men positive. At the same time, he’s worried that something could go wrong and sour the public perception of mutants again. Thus enters Jean Grey who becomes possessed by a cosmic space entity she can’t control which sets her, Xavier, and Magneto on a path to a conflict that could upset the delicate balance protecting mutant kind. At the very least it’s an idea but the movie is so cheaply produced and poorly executed that core idea of the film falls completely flat. 

The massive cast of the previous three films in the young-X-Men timeline is back once again. Yet again Michael Fassbender refuses to ever turn in a terrible performance and gives his all to a rather thankless role. The rest of the cast don’t really turn in much but the script doesn’t really offer them much to do. The dialog is all excessively on the nose at all times, amateurish, and performed by actors disinterested in the material. Half of the scenes feel like outtakes. I can’t remember a popular blockbuster with line delivery this offbeat and disinterested. It’s almost entertaining watching actors and actresses who have collectively starred in some of the greatest movies and TV shows of modern time (Game of Thrones, Zero Dark Thirty, Mad Mad: Fury Road, 12 Year a Slave, Atonement, mother!) get dragged through this schlock. 

I’ll take contractual obligation for $500, Alex!

Much like last year’s Venom, this film just really feels out of place in modern Hollywood. This is the sort of superhero spinoff that should be playing in a theater next to Electra and Spiderman 3. It’s a visitor from a time when studios thought superhero films were these embarrassing children’s stories that had to be watered down in order to be sold to a mass audience. In the time where Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, and Avengers: Endgame reign supreme as some of the most popular blockbusters it feels downright lazy to make a superhero film this bland. It lacks even the quietly seething depth that made X-Men: Days of Future Past engaging. This could’ve worked with a more intelligent script but even with that, this movie feels dead on arrival. I don’t hate it. I’d have to have felt something to hate it. Dark Phoenix is the cinematic equivalent of a dial tone. 

Positives

+ Meh, I didn't hate it...

Negatives

- Terrible Script - Weak Performances - Inconsequential Story - Cheap Production Design

The Bottom Line

Don't bother...

 

5.2

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

1 Comment

  1. Zero Tolerance on February 7, 2020 at 1:14 pm

    That last paragraph is straight MURDER!

    It really is insulting that Hollywood, er 20th c. Fox now-owned-by-Disney would still go through with this.

    This movie should have made like a video game and just been canceled, even after filming the whole thing.

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