“Dark Phoenix” Movie Review


     Years before J.J. Abrams reinvigorated the “Star Trek” franchise in 2009, the cast of the “Next Generation” crew had a four film run on the big screen beginning with “Star Trek Generations in 1994, and all but crashed and burned in 2002 with “Star Trek: Nemesis” which grossed a paltry $42 million in the United States and officially ended the franchise with a starship sized thud.  I bring this up because the “X-Men" franchise, which has now spanned 12 films over 18 years, is also ending a four film series with what fans know as the “First Class” cast.  These younger versions of the characters featured in 2000’s “X-Men” and its two sequels, made their debut in 2011’s “X-Men: First Class”, and reprised their roles in 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, and 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse”.  And like the Next Generation “Star Trek” films, the first two installments were the high point, but what followed left plenty to be desired.

     “Dark Phoenix”, also the fourth film for this cast, is the official send off, and seeks to go out on a high note after the universally panned “Apocalypse”.  When you look deeper into what derailed the “Star Trek” films, an obvious factor is the tendency to utilize episodic storytelling in a sort of “adventures of” format.  This typically entails the creation of a new singular one off nemesis for our heroes to meet, fight, and defeat all within two hours.  Compare that to the recent completion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s 22 film story arc in which Thanos was teased and developed over a decade’s worth of films and finally revealed as the main threat to the universe in “Infinity War”.  What results is a multilayered story that feels epic.  Introducing a villain in the first act and killing him off in the third act makes these stories feel repetitive, and unfortunately because of this glaring issue, writer and first time director Simon Kinberg is unable to bring this series to a memorable climax.

     Fans will certainly recall the last time the “Phoenix” comic story line was explored in 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand”.  By all accounts, it was that film that motivated Fox to recast the roles with younger actors in the first place and basically start over.  Kinberg was a co-screenwriter on that film as well, and here he is 13 years later telling the story again, but that doesn’t mean he learned from the first outing’s myriad of problems.  “Dark Phoenix” suffers from countless issues ranging from that episodic one note plotting I’ve already mentioned, to an entire cast of talented actors finding themselves stuck in repetitive action sequences we’ve seen so many times before.  The powers each of these characters possess were at one time awe inspiring, but that is simply not the case anymore.

     Perhaps that’s because watching Storm (Alexandra Shipp) fire lightning from her hands, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) moving metal objects with his mind, and Professor X (James McAvoy) looking directly into people’s thoughts also happen to be the same skill set every Jedi happens to possess as well.  So seeing all of these special talents unfold again in the same ways they have in the last 18 years worth of films, just doesn’t bring forth the same sense of excitement.  Toss in a villain, who takes the form of Jessica Chastain and calls herself Vuk, who comes out of nowhere, but along with others from her alien race have apparently been living on Earth for quite sometime, while seeking a special power that will aid them in destroying our population or something along those lines.  Fact is, you won’t remember a whole lot about them because they only show up when the plot calls for it, which is minimal and uninspiring.  Otherwise, it’s a bunch of infighting between the core group as Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) once again becomes enhanced by a power she can’t control.

     The opening sequence which features the X-Men on a rescue mission to save the space shuttle after it loses control when encountering a space based energy field, is the clear high point of the film.  It is here Kinberg creates a sequence where each and every member’s ability is needed to accomplish the mission, resulting in one of the few scenes where the stakes actually appear worthy of these characters in the first place.  This is also where much of the conflict between key members, particularly Professor X and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), begins, thus laying the foundation for the more dramatic bits to come later.  But there isn’t enough here to utilize the “Civil War” formula and simply pit the two sides against each other, and that’s where the film tries to lean on its lifeless carbon copy villain and ultimately falters.

     Fact is, and I think most people seeing this film will already know this, none of what occurs in “Dark Phoenix” really matters anyway.  With Disney having completed their purchase of Fox earlier this year, the Mouse House now owns the X-Men and will likely relaunch the characters down the road, integrating them with their comic book counterparts who already populate what  we know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  And given what we just experienced with “Endgame”, there is no reason not to believe these characters will flourish once again now that they are back in the hands of Marvel Studios. 

     And that’s what creates the majority of the disappointment.  If you’re a fan of the franchise, then you desperately want “Dark Phoenix” to deliver the kind of excitement and satisfaction these characters, and the actors who portray them, deserve.  But instead we’re left with something you’ll forget about in a week, and will only be reminded of when you catch a snippit of it on television a year or two down the road.  Not exaclty the proper send off we were led to believe it would be.