In 2000, the X-Men arguably kicked off what would become the modern superhero movie. Sadly, after their artistic high, 2003 sophomore effort X2, the group stagnated and largely disbanded after the failure of the critically drubbed The Last Stand. While those they influenced flourished and developed, it was only after new blood reinvigorated the X-Men with First Class that most of the original members returned for a collaboration with their new, younger, hotter replacements. Sadly, that would be a mediocre highpoint before the devastation of Apocalypse, a late work that brought in some big-name guest talent, only to squander it.
That brings us to the X-Men’s latest production, Dark Phoenix, a single that is basically the group’s “Candle in the Wind 1997.” It’s the re-do of the hit they put out years ago, but now it’s about a different powerful young woman whose life is equated to a flame in a very obvious metaphor.
The cast of the last unwatchable X-Men is back for this one, and—after a prologue that won’t shut up in echoing throughout the remainder of the film—they jump straight into a mission: to stop the latest of the era’s space shuttle disasters!
After several X-Men (the for once not fawned-over Quicksilver, the ever-milquetoast Nightcrawler, the ever-agape Cyclops, Storm) are given some very deliberate superpower spotlights—which is fair, because that’s about the only time they’re all that useful in this thing—Jean Grey’s (Sophie Turner) showcase gets a bit bungled, and we’re finally given the payoff for the stupid foreshadowing in Apocalypse where she literally creates a fiery phoenix around herself.
Some kind of space flame-entity thing enters Jean, and, as we learn through Hank McCoy’s (Nicholas Hoult) scientific analysis of POWER, this has made her VERY powerful, with power. According to the power test.
Thusly, quite early on, her newfound energy ends up guaranteeing one very successful actress is done with her contract. And it sends the squads of both Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender, now running the Christiania to Xavier’s elegant mutant Copenhagen) after this deadly ginger. And Magneto has a dude whose power is literally just whipping his hair braids around, so that’s definitely cool.
Also after Jean Grey? Some sort of shapeshifting aliens. Apparently their planet was blown up by this space energy thing, and they want to get its power and take over Earth. In a movie dominated by the X-Men’s plodding bullshits of melodramatic dialogue, these aliens are somehow even duller. Their species is utterly nondescript, their names are negligible if even ever stated, and they want to take over a planet when there are about a dozen of them alive, which certainly seems like overkill. In terms of weird-acting, human-looking aliens doing a horrible job going after some Earthling superheroes, these idiots (led by an unsurprisingly wasted Jessica Chastain) rank well below The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension’s many dumb Johns.
Anyway, all this builds to what is legitimately one of the worst climaxes in superhero movie history. In short, it’s like four of the same, bloodless Mortal Kombat finishing moves in a row, done to absolutely generic villains, and before you know it, that’s the end of the movie.
Or rather, that’s the end of movie after a groan-worthy epilogue that painfully cribs from The Dark Knight Rises. (ANOTHER post-retirement reunion in a little European outdoor café? Come on…)
A joyless, self-serious superhero movie that doesn’t even have the relative artistry of the DCEU’s initial, joyless, self-serious shit, Dark Phoenix is the cinematic equivalent of when a fast food chain offers an “artisanal” sandwich. It’s still just a pile of junky, corporate-developed shit in an easy-to-eat format, but here straight-faced sold as a gourmet entrée.
Rather, like its heroine, it’s largely hollow beyond its slight filling of strained emotion and some glowing CGI shit.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix
Director: Simon Kinberg
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Runtime: 114 minutes
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain