Published on June 6th, 2019 | by Dan Nicholls0
The phoenix rises again, and this movie is so bad, that we can only hope it will rise again when the X-Men hit the MCU.
It should’ve ended with the Apocalypse.
After a solid rush out of the gate with First Class and the unexpected high of Days of Future Past, this new batch of X-Men flicks were primed for success. Then X-Men: Apocalypse happened and landed with a thud, leaving a reeking stench of purple CGI turds in its wake. If they wanted to keep the gravy train rolling the powers that be knew that they had to pull out the big guns to win everyone back, so they went to one of the most beloved arcs in comic book history – that of Jean Grey, the ‘Dark Phoenix.’ Sure, that story was told 13 years ago in X-Men: The Last Stand, but the new voices behind the camera had 13 goddamn years to learn the hard lessons from 2006 and make it better. So how the fuck did they make it worse? It’s bewildering that Dark Phoenix doesn’t just disappoint, it’s a full-on prime example of how not to make a motion picture.
Dark Phoenix reportedly carries a $200 million budget but the VFX, costumes, production design, hair and makeup look like they cost a cool twenty bucks combined. When the surface problems are that apparent, you know trouble runs deep. And boy, does it ever – the dialogue, action, performances, and supposed emotional stakes all flatline hard. You think we’d get at least some dope superhero setpieces with all those resources, right? The second act concludes with a fight to cross a road. Just a single road. The imagination they must’ve stretched to get that far is equally hilarious and sad.
The least problematic of its issues is the film’s title – which should have been called X-Men: Dark Phoenix to keep continuity. But continuity is one thing the ‘First Class’ series hasn’t given a shit about; the idiotic decision to set each installment a decade after the last means that Young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) doesn’t look like a man born before the Holocaust. Perhaps makeup could’ve been used to age these characters appropriately, but it wasn’t. In the 1992 of Dark Phoenix, YM doesn’t look like he’s pushing 60. None of the characters do, for that matter. They’re just plucked out of the timeline and dropped into whatever year suits the filmmaker’s whims because Sexy + Young = Better, right?
Characters’ entire motivations change with the wind, sometimes within the same scene without any believability. Each and every hero’s personal convictions can be twisted with just a single turn of a phrase. Imagine if Captain America told Thanos, “You can’t kill these people,” and Thanos was like, “Oh my God… You’re right, I can’t!” And that’s perhaps the worst part of all of it – even with crappy dialogue and stale acting we should at least be allowed to cohesively follow our characters’ decision-making in a manner that stays true to their psychology within this particular world. Apparently Magneto can control metal but his arm is rubber.
First-time director Simon Kinberg has co-written or co-produced a handful of these X-Men films but executes the proceedings here as if he hates each and every character in the universe. Parts could’ve been salvaged with proper direction; just because someone’s read every comic book doesn’t mean they understand the visual language of cinema and how it creates emotional responses in viewers. When you have all the tools available to you, use them to create the emotional effect you demand instead of hoping that forced dialogue will wrench hearts (it won’t).
Oh, so the story goes: Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) has psychic powers and while on a space mission she absorbs some alien energy or something and it makes her super powerful. But then she gets all spiteful towards Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and starts to explore her powers for evil purposes. The crew of good mutants race to stop her and attempt to save her soul before the darkness completely overpowers her and she destroys the world. So, just like The Last Stand but without the series closure and production value (again, Dark Phoenix reportedly cost $200 million (!!) and you can’t see a dime of it on screen).
The batch of Young’ins were handled poorly in Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix. Part of the reason why it’s tough to emotionally connect with the characters here is because we haven’t spent any real time or formed any real bond with Young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Young Jean. They were both in Apocalypse for a couple minutes and had a line or two, but we’re expected to come into the movie already deeply invested in them. It’s foolish to put the heavy lifting at the feet of the audience’s past relationships with other films and comic books and expect those feelings to carry over.
God, poor Jessica Chastain. She wanders around the movie with a blank expression and inane line readings that under the surface scream for some intelligence and wit to be injected. Why her villain is in the picture is explained in one single line and even then we still don’t know why she’s bent on destroying Earth. If she and her cronies (aliens who look like Groots but who take human form, like the Skrulls in Captain Marvel) have a goal driving them to convert Jean Grey to the dark side, it’s lost to the audience. What are their powers? What are their weaknesses? We know they want Jean Grey and the power she possesses, what do they want to do with her/it? Why? Good luck finding a single answer to any of those questions within the film itself.
There is one bright, shiny silver lining to Dark Phoenix: it closes the book once and for all on this iteration of the X-Men series, even if it’s two movies too late. Whatever Disney decides to do with the material from here is unknown, but let’s at least hope that they bring a sense of wonder, excitement, and fun back to this corner of the Marvel world. Dark Phoenix is one lame, infuriating bird – let’s rise from its wretched ashes and never sink this low again.