Starring Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Jennifer Lawrence, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee
“Dark Phoenix” director Simon Kinberg has been involved with the X-Men movie franchise since “X3: The Last Stand” (2006). Ironically his introduction into the mutant world was the exact story he’s re-telling here. Kinberg says they didn’t get it right with Jean Grey’s Phoenix story the first time, and while there is a concerted effort to correct the mistakes of that earlier film, “Dark Phoenix” has its own, arguably more problematic issues. Mainly the emotional impact of Jean’s demise has on her teammates doesn’t have the punch it did the first time around. Maybe it’s because we have already witnessed these events play out before. The “Game of Thrones” star’s portrayal as young Jean Grey got off to a good start in “X-Men Apocalypse“ (2016), but she doesn’t quite pull off this darker persona. However, the inter-mansion drama is exactly the type of character development that the previous films have been lacking.
Once hated and persecuted members of society, the X-Men through their heroic actions have become the world’s go-to superheroes. They are led by Professor Charles Xavier (McAvoy), A proud father figure that has let his self-importance begins to cause a rift between himself and the two remaining original team members Raven Darkholme / Mystique (Lawrence) and Hank McCoy /Beat (Hoult). Their disagreements come full circle when Jean Grey (Turner) is injured on a space mission that reveals what Professor X has been doing to the young X-man’s mind for years. Now one of their own has transformed into the most powerful mutant the world has ever seen with an alien force ready to leach off her power. The X-Men and Magneto’s darker side must band together to stop Phoenix from destroying everything they love.
Kinberg’s focus on the rise and fall of Phoenix, to correct mistakes in “The Last Stand,” is admirable but he just trades Brett Ratner’s mistakes for his own.
Kinberg rewrites how Jean Grey becomes Phoenix but the end result is the same. ‘X-Men United” ended with Jean Grey sacrificing her life for her team and family. Her sacrifice was left in the minds of viewers between the films, unlike here, where she is only out of sight for less than five minutes before that fiery transformation. Her victims are also different from those of “The Last Stand,” though the body count is much lower, making this version appear dramatically weaker. Having Dark Phoenix battle The X-Men in her blue jeans while they are all suited up doesn’t present a very evocative image either. Famke Janssen built a career on her ability to balance complicated female characters that were powerful, sexy and dangerous. She got two films to cultivate the Jean Grey character before the big transition. Turner always had big shoes to fill and was given far less time to get there. Jessica Chastain’s mysterious role in the film also doesn’t quite work both from a performance standpoint or as a plot device. Having her play a real comic book villain instead of some random alien being would have been more effective. Although there is no denying a lot of people will see this film for both Chastain and Turner who bring the 20-year franchise to a disappointing conclusion.
It was that first film back in 2000, simply titled “X-Men” that sparked Marvel’s leap toward cinema domination. After “Spider-Man” and “Iron Man” took center stage, the X-Men movies struggled to find their place. Now on the sixth sequel, rebooted twice and holds the title for most confusing timeline of any franchise. Kinberg’s focus on the rise and fall of Phoenix, to correct mistakes in “The Last Stand,” is admirable but he just trades Brett Ratner’s mistakes for his own. In one scene Quicksilver (Peters) is injured and he is never shown in the film again? Who Phoenix kills and who she spares also has no rhyme or reason (unless it’s obvious the actor doesn’t want to continue appearing in the films). The use of trains, helicopters and chess sets, all mirror specific moments from previous installments instead of new set pieces. Those who haven’t seen or don’t remember all the details of the earlier films might find “Dark Phoenix” more enjoyable than those who do.
Ignorance might be bliss when watching or thinking about “Dark Phoenix”.