Jun 10, 2019
Welcome back for our final currently playing movie for this cycle. Here’s another franchise film this year that is not being well received by the critics. I’ll have a lot of thoughts about the whole franchise, and this particular film, in a little bit. For another franchise film that hasn’t hit well, check out our recent review for “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (Episode #505) and for a much better film within the film universe, check out “Deadpool 2” (Episode #141), the best family film you’ll ever see.
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Here we go!
Today’s movie is “Dark Phoenix”, the final film of the current X-Men franchise, written and directed by Simon Kinberg, based on the landmark “Dark Phoenix Saga” comic series written by John Byrne, Chris Claremont, and David Cockrum, based on characters created by the legendary Jack Kirby and the dearly departed Stan Lee. The film re-visits the events of “X-Men: The Last Stand”, now firmly within the alternate timeline established in “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, as we follow the X-Men on a space mission to rescue a stranded shuttle. However, during the mission, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbs a mysterious power while learning the truth about her past, and then everyone involved with the film starts going through the motions.
Before I start talking about the film itself, I want to talk about the twenty-year history of the franchise. And for me, that goes back to about three years before “X-Men” debuted in the year 2000. It was the early part of 1997, and my college friends and I were sitting around fan-casting a potential X-Men film. All of us were fans of “X-Men: The Animated Series”, and we believed it would eventually happen. As you might imagine, we totally nailed Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier. And no one could have ever imagined Hugh Jackman as Logan. So, when we heard rumblings on this new-fangled thing called “The Internet” about the film happening, and with our correct casting for Professor X, we all got a chance to see how it did.
It was INCREDIBLE, at least for the time. Sure, I went back through the franchise with the family over the past few years, and it doesn’t quite hold up. But at the time, I was getting to see Wolverine in action, Storm commanding the elements, Scott Summers being an entitled prick, and all the rest. And compared to what passed for comic book films before, it was incredible. The sequel was more of the same, and that was fine with me. “The Last Stand” was not as great, trying too much with the stories, and ends up being our first taste of the “Dark Phoenix” saga on the big screen. It wasn’t a disappointment so much as a letdown.
And at this point, the clock started ticking. Because Fox could only hold the rights to the X-Men franchise as long as they were putting out movies with the characters, and we got the world’s worst origin story, “X-Men Origins – Wolverine”, including a now anachronistic Ryan Reynolds as Mutant No-Mouth Deadpool. I walked away from the franchise for a while after that, skipping “X-Men: First Class”, despite the praise, and not going back until a thoroughly enjoyable, and incredibly well-done scope, of “The Wolverine”. And I did like “X-Men: First Class”, seeing the characters as great versions, then falling in love with the entire franchise again with “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, which blended the two universes into one, with Hugh Jackman able to exist in both. Sure, I was disappointed by “X-Men: Apocalypse”, but “Deadpool” was the real winner that year, anyway (And always will be in my heart. Call me, Wade!). But then we heard the rumblings of the Fox/Disney deal, and no matter how sweet the “Deadpool” money was, we knew it all had to come to an end, and we knew that no matter how they were going to try “Dark Phoenix” again, this franchise wouldn’t survive.
And that’s where it all began to go horribly wrong.
A shame. That’s the best way to describe this entire film. A shame that the film kept a greenlight. A shame that it couldn’t be the closer that the franchise deserved. I’m not sure how much of this can be blamed on Simon Kinberg, who has been a guiding force for the franchise since 2011, becoming increasingly involved from being the writer for “X-Men: The Last Stand”, and finding himself at the end of the franchise run writing and directing the final feature. Story-wise, the franchise has been great, and a retread of the “Dark Phoenix” saga, which Kinberg had already covered in “X-Men: The Last Stand”, could have yielded excellent results. And yet, despite having the guiding force at the helm, and an estimated $200 million budget, the best we got was a muddled, unfinished second-act. Like I said, a shame.
It all feels contractually obligated, from start to finish. We begin with zero continuity, a time warp thirteen years later after “X-Men: Apocalypse”, and despite bringing destruction to most of the earth, seems as if nothing happened at all. Eric, aka Magneto, looks particularly amazing for 62 years of age. Mutants are once again tolerated, but of course, just barely, and Xavier’s hubris, once again, causes Jean to run away, and... well, if you saw “X-Men: The Last Stand”, then you’ve seen this, just with different actors. The script is awful, with pretentious monologues and forced dialogue, and most of all, it barely plays with any of the classic X-Men themes and never in new ways.
But the worst part, for me, is how bad the acting is, across the board. McAvoy is phoning it in as Xavier, monologues and all. Lawrence does all right as Mystique given her lines. Hoult’s entire performance as Beast never seems to develop, and feels like half his performance was left on the cutting room floor. Sophie Turner was probably the best role, and even then I could barely distinguish her from Sansa Stark aside from the special effects. Cyclops, Storm, Quicksilver, Nightcrawler, meh. No, you know what, the worst part for me was the number of standing still special effects shots we had to endure for $200 million dollars, which clearly not enough of went to the special effects and editing teams.
The franchise deserved better. And it deserved better not because we didn’t have the technology or the skillset or the vision to make it better. We have so many other comic book movies out there on both the epic and street-level scales. It deserved better precisely *because* we know something better was possible, and it feels like at every level, this film failed to even make an effort. I can accept that a perfectly good franchise might be part of the wreckage of the Fox/Disney deal, but I can’t accept how bad this one was closing things up.
My ideal closer? Glad you asked. I would have done a literal post-apocalyptic movie, where you could always see the visible effects of what Apocalypse did. Mutants were given a choice to retire to Magneto’s island, have their powers stripped, sign on to government service, or to try living within mutant neighborhoods where the authorities have a shoot-first, ask questions later policy, often sharing those neighborhoods peacefully with other marginalized populations. Same Jean Grey story, but told in the wreckage of their family neighborhood, and a sudden desire to remake the world in her image, because in destroying Apocalypse, she actually absorbed him and that is the power tainting her, a final failure of Xavier’s. And somehow Deadpool and Cable. I think I’m forgetting someone.
“Dark Phoenix” is a disappointing afterthought that serves as the closer to an amazing franchise, one which was the vanguard for the comic book hero movies and franchises of today. Nearly every aspect of this film feels either contractually obligated or phoned in, from the writing and direction to the acting to the dismal special effects. Fans of the X-Men franchise, or fans of comic book movies in general, are probably the only people I would recommend this film to, and anyone interested in it should first watch the rest of the franchise so you can know just how great it was. And maybe hope with me that there is still more great stuff to come.
Rotten Tomatoes: 22%
One Movie Punch: 3.4/10
“Dark Phoenix” (2019) is rated PG-13and is currently playing intheaters.