Comic book-inspired films were on a hot streak, what with Captain Marvel, Shazam!, and Avengers: Endgame knocking the socks off audiences and critics alike. But alas, all winning streaks must come to an end – just ask Jeopardy! champ James Holzhauer. The superhero genre’s run of first-rate entertainment just hit a brick wall, and an “X” marks the spot of the accident. The final entry in the current X-Men series arrives with Dark Phoenix, a misfire of epic proportions.
If not for the lack of a compelling story, character development, and chemistry among the cast, Dark Phoenix might have soared. It’s an incredible disappointment and a sad send-off to a franchise that, in all honestly, was made up of more misses than hits.
Dark Phoenix kicks off with a brief flashback showing young Jean on the day of her parents’ horrific car accident. She blames herself for their deaths and when Professor Charles Xavier takes her in, she warns him she’s broken and can’t be fixed.
He waves off the warning and for years it seems Jean fits in with the other mutants-in-training who are being mentored by Raven/Mystique and Hank McCoy/Beast. However, an emergency with the space shuttle Endeavor leads to Jean absorbing some bizarre space energy that turns her from mostly under control into a darker, more violent, incredibly powerful mutant with no impulse control that not even Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto wants fighting by his side.
Enter mysterious creatures from space who want what Jean’s got flowing through her veins. One thing leads to another, lines are crossed, and sides are taken. Throw in a few entertaining/confusing action sequences and by the time the X-Men finish up battling aliens and themselves, the best that can be said is it all happened in less than two hours.
Game of Thrones’ Queen in the North Sophie Turner handles the title role. Turner’s a fine young actress, but she never quite grabs hold of Jean Grey/Phoenix. You can almost feel her circling the character and looking for an entry point. It doesn’t help that she’s given very little to work with in the script.
If there was a Golden Raspberry Award for the single worst line of dialogue in a feature film, it would go to a ridiculous speech delivered by Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven. There’s a scene in Avengers: Endgame that was criticized for its female empowerment moment that felt wedged in and out of place to some critics. (I applauded its inclusion and felt it was about damn time for an “I am woman hear me roar” moment in the Avengers franchise.) Dark Phoenix attempts to do that Avengers moment one better and in doing so completely jumps the shark.
James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are their usual fine selves, and Nicholas Hoult is always fun to watch in Beast-mode. Evan Peters gets very little screen time as Quicksilver in this send-off which is too bad as Peters can nail a scene and channel a mood even without decent material to work off of.
Divulging any details no matter how seemingly insignificant about Jessica Chastain’s new character would get into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say what you learn about her character, Vuk, in its first few minutes on screen will be all you’ll ever learn about Vuk. It’s the sort of role Tilda Swinton would have chewed up and spit out, but Chastain plays it super low-key and understated. In this case, that’s not a compliment.
The biggest disappointment is that Dark Phoenix fails to tell an interesting story. There’s a fair share of dazzling action scenes but when it comes to actual character development and intrigue, the plot fizzles when it needs to sizzle.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language
Release Date: June 7, 2019
Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes
Written and Directed By: Simon Kinberg