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Dark Phoenix – Movie Review

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Dark Phoenix – Movie Review

Rating: C- (Below Average)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

The X-Men series has been an interesting collection of films, one with multiple conflicting ideas of how to adapt the Marvel team of mutants. Most of them have primarily been about Wolverine, taking focus away from the more interesting characters. The “First Class” entries have been rather refreshing, then, and the use of time travel in Days of Future Past gave the movies the freedom to go in their own direction. Unfortunately, Dark Phoenix concludes the franchise on a whimpering note. Stepping into the director’s chair, Simon Kinberg shows his knowledge of this property, but the movie doesn’t quite achieve lift-off. While the “Dark Phoenix Saga” is much adored by comic book readers, the film doesn’t do a good job of showing why it’s such a significant arc.

The biggest problem with Dark Phoenix is how difficult it is to care about what’s going on. The filmmakers check off the required boxes of what we expect to see in an X-Men movie, but the emotional attachment doesn’t hit. You can see the elements meant to make us invested in Jean Grey’s story as an evil power consumes her, but she is written in a flat and dull way. Most of the film consists of Jean using her abilities, the other X-Men try to stop her, rinse and repeat. Part of the appeal of the X-Men is seeing their various powers and the clever ways they take advantage of them. It’s hard to make this fresh after so many films and through a lot of Dark Phoenix, we see the mutants sort of wave their hands with special effects added on top.

The best scene in Dark Phoenix is early on, when we see the X-Men partake in a mission to save some astronauts. It’s a well crafted sequence that recalls the joy of a show like Thunderbirds. Kinberg shows plenty of competence as a director and the action scenes are okay, although less reliance on quick cuts and shaky cam would have been preferable. It is more-so in the character department that Dark Phoenix disappoints. It’s not merely Jean Grey who isn’t fleshed out. Everyone is given the bare minimum to work with and they don’t grow as the story progresses. Magneto is given the biggest short shrift. His conflicts and different ideologies with Charles Xavier were a major focal point in previous installments. In this film, it’s hardly touched upon. Magneto shows up, but has little impact on the plot.

The villains in Dark Phoenix are especially dull. Completely wasting the use of Jessica Chastain, this group of aliens only exists to participate in a few fight scenes and spout cryptic speeches. The movie rushes from scene to scene, not giving us enough time to get invested in the characters and what they’re going through. It’s an unusual case where the film has a fast pace, but also feels tedious most of the time. Previous X-Men films had a large and grandiose scale, but Dark Phoenix feels smaller. Even the cinematography has a dull appearance. The story is so disinteresting, one ends up getting distracted by other things. Have you ever noticed how many blue X-Men characters there are?

Due to outside corporate decisions, Dark Phoenix seems set to be the final film featuring this specific depiction of the X-Men. With that in mind, one hopes the series would conclude with a bang. Instead, we’re left wondering what was so special about this story that needed to be told. There is no forward momentum and not even a sentimental farewell. Dark Phoenix just sort of exists, one of many X-Men movies produced over the last nineteen years. It fulfills the basic requirements, but doesn’t do it in a way that’s particularly entertaining. The whole movie has the feel of a television series that has been unexpectedly cancelled and the show runners have to rush to conclude their planned story arcs.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison