It’s ironic that 20th Century Fox spent 13 expensive years trying to undo the damage done by the awful X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) — erasing the events of that film with the excellent time-traveling, history-rewriting, X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) — only to reach the same point again. They’ve mucked up the Dark Phoenix storyline once more.
I still remember the anger I felt after watching The Last Stand. Mediocre director Brett Ratner, who after directing the Rush Hour films, had both DC and Marvel chasing him for some inexplicable reason, was picked to helm the third X-Men film after filmmaker Bryan Singer abandoned the franchise to make Superman Returns. (In hindsight, had Singer stayed with X-Men, we might have had a good X-Men and a good Superman film in 2006).
The result was a cinematic catastrophe. After the two good X-Men films that found a balance between DC’s darkness and Marvel’s upcoming sunnier superhero films, The Last Stand was an obnoxious mess. To make matters even worse, Brett Ratner killed key characters to satisfy his own ego. Today, he barely has any work from Hollywood, and is surrounded by allegations of sexual harassment.
Dealing with the backlash, 20th Century Fox made some very good prequels and sequels that eventually retconned the Dark Phoenix story from The Last Stand. And here we are, 13 years later, with X-Men: Dark Phoenix. This last film in the franchise from 20th Century Fox is, in many ways, worse than its maligned predecessor.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix has the feel of a film from a studio that’s exhausted its creative juices
Perhaps it was the buyout from Disney that meant the X-Men series would be rebooted anyway to fit in with the Marvel universe. But it is clear that, at some point, 20th Century Fox lost motivation to make a good film. They chose Simon Kinberg as the director and screenwriter, who is a capable screenwriter but a first-time director, and it shows. There is a sophomoric feel to Dark Phoenix. Many of the performances are good, but are strangely uneven, while most of the conversations are uncreatively shot with the basic front and reverse camera angle, as if Simon Kinberg were shooting a documentary for the BBC rather than a multimillion-dollar film.
While the performances are decent, the screenplay is incredibly dull. What’s more, there are continuity errors. We saw Jean Grey/Phoenix (Sophie Turner) get her new abilities after the events of X-Men: Apocalypse. But Dark Phoenix pretends that never happened. Here, she gets her powers from a mysterious energy after she and the other X-Men fly to outer space to save astronauts.
With these new alien powers, and a betrayal of sorts from her mentor Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy), Jean seeks out another mentor. But she is also left disappointed by Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender). At the same time, she’s being manipulated by Vuk (Jessica Chastain), the leader of a shape-shifting alien race that wants to command this power.
Jean goes through many complex emotional states and Sophie Turner tries her best to display them convincingly. Unfortunately, the film moves too fast and the character shifts feel bizarre. To make matters worse, the other characters have little to work with. Some, like Magneto, have tired arcs that we’ve seen a dozen times before. Then, there is Jessica Chastain, an excellent actor with a paper-thin character. She, like many actors in the film, is wasted.
Some of the special effects in X-Men: Dark Phoenix also feel quite dated. This, despite the film’s huge budget. From what I’ve read, the budget was inflated because much of the film was reshot. The ending, which was supposed to take place in space, was unfortunately cut because it appeared too visually similar to Captain Marvel.
Despite my issues with the film, I’m not upset with it like I was with The Last Stand, which had suddenly stopped a promising franchise dead in its tracks. As it was clear from the poor X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), 20th Century Fox had reached the end of the road with the series. Dark Phoenix feels like a film from a studio that’s exhausted its creative juices. It’s time to enjoy the good films in the series such as Logan (2017), and let the X-Men rest until Marvel is ready for a reboot.
Published in Dawn, ICON, June 16th, 2019