“Dark Phoenix” stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, and Jessica Chastain. Released on June 7, 2019, the film has the X-Men facing the full power of Jean Grey.
The film features the directorial debut of Simon Kinberg, who is known for his work on the X-Men franchise as a writer and a producer. It is the 12th installment in the “X-Men” film series. Now that Disney is officially in control of 20th Century Fox, we can now look forward to seeing the mutant team in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before that happens, however, we need to make sure that Fox’s X-Men series concludes on a high note, and what better way for it to close things off than by retelling the “Dark Phoenix Saga” for moviegoers. The first time Hollywood tried to adapt this storyline into a film was back in 2006 when they released the divisive third installment in the long-running franchise, “X-Men: The Last Stand”. Simon Kinberg, the writer of “The Last Stand”, was clearly unhappy with how it turned out, so he decided to take matters into his own hands by writing (and directing) another “Dark Phoenix” adaptation. In case you haven’t noticed, “X-Men” is one of those franchises that I haven’t got into that often. It didn’t really capture my interest that much until I saw “X-Men: First Class” in 2011. After that film and “Days of Future Past” fully reignited the superhero franchise in a big way, everything slowly started to disintegrate like half of the population at the end of “Infinity War” with the release of “X-Men: Apocalypse” in 2016. This signifies that it’s time for this series to walk off towards the sunset with Wolverine. So far this year, we’ve seen a couple of finale films that closed off their sagas in spectacular fashion. Can this one do the same? Let’s find out.
Taking place in the 1990s, the X-Men, lead by Charles Xavier (McAvoy), continues to maintain peace with humanity by doing good deeds. Their latest mission has them retrieving the astronauts that are stranded in space due to their space shuttle being damaged by a mysterious type of energy. What seems to be another ordinary task for the X-Men turns out to be more than what they expect after one of their members, Jean Grey (Turner), accidentally absorbs that energy into her body. As a result, her powers become more unstable and powerful, forcing the team to decide whether to rescue her or kill her before she destroys everything and everyone. This film gave audiences a chance to explore the character of Jean Grey a bit more, ranging from her childhood tragedy to her becoming…well, Dark Phoenix, which I thought was the most interesting part of the film. The film showcased her character's internal fear of losing control of her powers and hurting the people she loves as well as the path she’s on after she finds out the truth about her past. It’s not a perfect representation of what was shown, but the empathetic nature of the character and Sophie Turner’s compelling performance were enough to make me have a strong connection with her. James McAvoy also did a decent job with his performance as Charles Xavier. Xavier is the type of person who does whatever is necessary to keep the peace between mutants and humans alive, even if it means doing something that may betray his students’ trust, including Jean. This is something that I would like for the filmmakers to explore more of, especially Xavier’s relationship with Raven (Lawrence) and Jean Grey. Other than that, the way they handle this plot element was fine. The rest of the cast were suitable in their roles, although their characters didn’t have enough special moments to carry the film forward. Heck, even Quicksilver (Peters), the guy who stole the show in the last two installments, didn’t get a chance to shine that much. Yikes. Another thing I can appreciate was the film’s action sequences. Despite them falling short of being grand, they were able to keep my attention thanks to its visuals and entertainment value. That’s basically one of the things that matter to me the most when it comes to films like this. If the action is heart-pounding, entertaining, and nicely choreographed, then I got my money’s worth whether the story is good or not. Speaking of which, let’s talk about the film’s execution on its story. Clearly, the studio marketed this as the final farewell for the franchise that helped the superhero genre gain popularity a couple of decades ago, which had fans hoping that it would deliver what it promised. As a person who hasn’t read the comics nor watch a lot of X-Men films, I thought the story was enjoyable, yet flawed. The film clearly had no idea whether it wants to be a basic continuation of the franchise or a finale that concludes every main character’s story arcs. When it tried to be both, its tone often came off as messy and unsatisfying. I can understand that it’s not exactly what the fans and the critics wanted out of something like this, but I didn’t think it was as terrible or boring as they said it was since Kinberg’s efforts in making his own adaptation of the “Dark Phoenix Saga” story arc were respectable and well-intended. Probably my least favorite part of the film would have to be the main antagonist, Vuk (Chastain), the leader of a shape-shifting alien race who has her eyes set on Jean and her powers. As much as I like Chastain in the film, her character didn’t do that much to consider herself a major threat to the X-Men. She’s basically another cliched villain that must be stopped before they take over the world or something like that, which would explain the film’s lack of real emotional stakes.
Overall, as a finale, “Dark Phoenix” fizzles a lot, but as a superhero film made for entertainment purposes, it was able to light its way through its troublesome plot and its one-dimensional villain. The actors were decent in their roles (particularly Turner), the action was engaging, and Kinberg’s direction was somehow passable. It’s not horrible, but it’s far from great. It’s just…fine. That’s all I could say about the film. It’s a fine piece of superhero entertainment. No need for me to get upset over something that’s made to entertain its audience. If you’re still interested in seeing this film despite the harsh reviews it’s been getting, I would recommend you keep your expectations very low just in case.