Main cast: James McAvoy (Charles Xavier/Professor X), Michael Fassbender (Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven Darkhölme/Mystique), Nicholas Hoult (Hank McCoy/Beast), Sophie Turner (Jean Grey), Tye Sheridan (Scott Summers/Cyclops), Alexandra Shipp (Ororo Munroe/Storm), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler), Evan Peters (Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver), Kota Eberhardt (Selene), Andrew Stehlin (Red Lotus), and Jessica Chastain (Vuk)
Director: Simon Kinberg
The much troubled and delayed Dark Phoenix is finally out, and thank goodness it is the last entry into the X-Men franchise under 21st Century Fox before it was gobbled up by Disney. The bottom of the barrel has been scraped with this one, and any more movies that come after this, under the same management, will likely require super-powered shovels to dig even deeper.
Right away, the CGI used in this movie comes off as very, very bad compared to the more sophisticated and even epic ones in recent superhero flicks. Every time Storm does her powers, it looks like someone had gone wild with the CGI software for the very first time on poor Alexandra Shipp during post-production. Michael Fassbender sports a pretty nice haircut here, but my goodness, whenever he “flies” in front of the green screen, it’s hilariously fake. When Magneto flings stuff around, these stuff hit other people without any noticeable force or impact. Really, everything about Dark Phoenix is CGI amateur hour, the Syfy equivalent of the likes of recent cape flicks, and many of the shiny effects here make Justice League look like Avengers: End Game. The green screen didn’t die for this, surely.
The story itself has some potential. I know, you’re probably thinking, “What the…. Dark Phoenix again? Don’t they have any other stories to tell?” but this movie opts to have Dark Phoenix be a manifestation of Jean Grey’s private demons.
You see, in this movie, we learn that Jean Grey was taken in by Charles Xavier when she accidentally used her powers to cause a traffic accident that killed her parents. Hey, don’t judge: she was a kid and she didn’t know what she was doing. Subsequently, our mutant professor decided to secretly get into Jean’s head and closed off much of her more troubling memories, so that she wouldn’t be troubled by these memories.
So far, all is good until, just like in those comics, Jean absorbs what seems to be a solar flare while she and her friends are trying to rescue the astronauts in a malfunctioning space shuttle. The event actually increases her powers, making her as powerful as Charles once predicted. It also causes the mental barriers erected by Charles in her head to break down, and now her inner demons surge forth all at once like water from a broken dam. Whenever she loses control of her emotions, her full powers manifest without her being able to control them, and this quickly causes her to wreak even damage to destabilize whatever peace Charles has brokered with the normies since the previous X-Men movie.
The story is intriguing on paper, but the only way it can work is if the movie went all Logan and go all morally grey on everyone. Seriously, something is wrong when Charles is the least sympathetic character here. The movie attempts to create some discord between him and Mystique, when the latter feels that Charles is putting their own kind at increasingly greater risks to protect humans, just to assuage his ego and allow him to bask in the limelight as the mutants’ hottest ambassador. Hank is torn between his affections for Raven and his loyalty to Charles. There is also the interesting moral dilemma of Charles basically lobotomizing Jean when she was a child – his action is certainly biting all their rear ends here.
However, all these issues are soon swept under the rug for infantile greeting card messages. Aside from one moment of Storm expressing her belief that Jean deliberately committed murder, everyone here seems united in the belief that Jean is not being herself when she’s going Dark Phoenix on people, and everything will be okay if they can get her to “come home”. What? Was Simon Kinberg high on something when he wrote the script? I could have sworn he lifted all of Charles’s lines from the greeting cards at his neighborhood gift shop. Then again, this is the same movie franchise that continues to let Erik get away with mass murder several times, so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.
No one here has a conviction, everyone flip-flops based on plot convenience. One moment, this fellow wants to kill Jean. Next minute, he decides otherwise because it’s what the good guys want him to do. Jean initially wants to be left alone so that she won’t hurt anyone, but at a convenient moment, she decides that she’s given the “gift” to protect her family. Character motivations swing from one extreme to another abruptly, and it’s probably a good thing that I don’t care much in the first place to get to worked up by the shoddy script.
I don’t care because I don’t know Jean Grey. She was merely one of the annoying brats sidelined by the older cast in the previous movie, and all of a sudden, she’s the central figure here. She doesn’t get any deep characterization here, though – she’s just a thing on the screen – so I have zero emotional investment in her arc or her laughably underdeveloped love story with Scott Summers.
Seriously, this one should have just ditched the bad alien subplot and focused on the characters’ emotional turmoil. Develop the ideological conflict between Charles and Raven, explore the demons inside Jean’s head and show me how they shape Dark Phoenix to be what she is, show me more of the bond between her, Scott, Raven, and Charles. Let the characters to have conflicts that last more than a scene, get them to talk in ways other than greeting cards 24/7. and let some characters die or be wrong. All these things may make Dark Phoenix a better movie.
In its current incarnation, this is just one hot steaming pile of dung that boasts embarrassingly bad production values and an infantile approach to a story line that could only work if it had been darker and more adult. They should have given this movie a more dignified euthanasia by quietly releasing it on Disney+ or Netflix instead of forcing it to show its rear end on the big screen.