“X-Men: Dark Phoenix” (2019)
Written & directed by: Simon Kinberg
Featuring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp and Jessica Chastain
Erik Lehnsherr: “The world is on the brink!”
Professor Charles Xavier: “I’m sorry, I didn’t stop this sooner…”
Erik Lehnsherr: “You’re always sorry, Charles. And there’s always a speech. But nobody cares!”
Has there ever been a movie more that spelt ‘contractual obligations’ more than this weeks “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” (2019) which sees the final movie in the cycle that began with Matthew Vaughn’s divisive “X-Men: First Class” (2011) which at the time acted as a reboot/reset of the franchise after the terrible “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006) which coincidentally saw a ham fisted adaption of the most iconic storyline in X-Men comic lore, the cosmic set ‘Dark Phoenix Saga’ which in the 1980s was not only proof of Marvels dominance in comics but solidified the popularity of the mutants setting their future for the next fifteen years. Now this seventh movie attempts to close out the series mainly due to the fact that 20thCentury Fox is now owned by Disney, with many picking that the mutant characters will be absorbed into the successful MCU with new production staff as well as actors to portray some of these iconic characters. Not only that but as can be witnessed with this movie the writers and producers seem to have not only run out of steam but are bereft of any original ideas. Finally, many of the actors involved seem to be tired of what have become one note cyphers that at one time stood as the ‘other’ in society now seem to be cut out characters that barely have anything new to say about the world they inhabit. I have to also be at a loss as to why anyone would attempt to bring the ‘Dark Phoenix Saga’ to the screen after it had been attempted before and so badly that it ended the original cycles run.
Back in 2011 it seemed like a fresh idea to set an X-Men movie in the 1960s casting young actors who were being set up as the future of the franchise in a time when the original characters were crested. It was also a way to ignore what had gone before so that audiences could re-embrace what they loved about the first two movies, while at the same time introducing new characters that would broaden the plots as well as pay some fan service to those who were fans of the comics. This was also a time when the three leads, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbenderand Jennifer Lawrence were starting to come into their own, fresh faced and Lawrence would go on to be awarded with a best actress Oscar, it seemed prescient in these choices. Now almost ten years later all three seem to be sleepwalking through their parts, Lawrence who was forced into a lead has seen her star dim a little so you can tell she wants out as you can see onscreen since the abysmal “X-Men: Apocalypse” (2016). Not only that but the once bright star in director Bryan Singer who is facing serious sexual allegations has been jettisoned, replaced as director by screenwriter Simon Kinberg who has never proven himself to be a great writer and with this new movie proves he is not a very good director either.
The movie itself is set in 1992, the X-Men respond to a distress signal from the space shuttle Endeavour, which is critically damaged by a solar flare. While the X-Men save all of the astronauts, Jean absorbs the solar flare in her body. Her psychic powers are greatly amplified as a result. From here the plot combines not only the ‘Dark Phoenix’ storyline from the comics but actually incorporates “X-Men: The Last Stand” which to me is baffling. Not only that but it seems like Kinberg wanted to inject some ‘original’ material so there are also strands of some kind of alien invasion plot which makes little sense, but then it has that in common with the entire movie. If you thought the rebooted “Fantastic Four” (2015) was terrible this is a movie that rivals it, at the same time making both “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” actually look good.
What 20thCentury Fox attempted to do was to pivot this movie towards the even younger stars in Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp and in particular “Game of Thrones” (2011-2019) star Sophie Turner who has turned into a very good actress but the problem here is the material which is routine, substandard and mediocre at best so in effect nobody is served well, not the new actors, not the experienced and not new to the series Jessica Chastain, who deserves so much better for someone of her calibre. It is unfortunate that Sophie Turner has to not only attempt to carry the movie but also has to spout some of the most hackneyed, obvious and clumsy SJW dialogue ever put to screen. Some of the same themes here have already been seen in the MCU movie “Captain Marvel” (2019), say what you want about the themes present there, at least they made sense, had a point to the arc of the character and went somewhere with the story. Here Turner and to a lesser extent Jennifer Lawrence have to make points about women hood, power and emotions that you can tell were written by a man who was attempting to grab onto some issue of the day but is nothing but poor lip service.
The way “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” has been constructed with a narrative that moves along far too quickly so that any consequence is not profoundly looked back on means that there are no serious repercussions from any previous scene. The way in which Jean movies from ‘hero’ to ‘villain’ to ‘hero’ happens with such speed one may wonder what they are watching, what the actual objectives of people are and where is this story heading. The answer is that it appears that movie was such a narrative mess that plot elements from a variety of sources were thrown at a wall, whatever stuck was incorporated, that is why the movie movies all over the place with little rhyme or reason. It is also why characters replicate their personalities from previous movies (no movement or growth) as well as others changing at a drop of a dime, witness Magneto first protect Jean, then fight her then once again protect her. This is the the least successful X-Men movie to date, which is saying something, but the good news is that ina a few years this will all be rebooted, hopefully in a good way by Disney into something that more represents what the X-Men could be, not this derivative nonsense that we have had to put up with for the past five years.