X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) Review

A DISAPPOINTING & LACKLUSTER FINALE


 

Mutation. It is the key to our evolution. It is how we have evolved from a single-cell organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, normally taking thousands and thousands of years. But every few millennia evolution leaps forward. Thus, the idea of X-Men, the long running and beloved Marvel comic book property was brought to Hollywood’s silver screen in 2000, acting as the first well-thought-out and well-executed theatrical feature endeavor from a major Hollywood studio (i.e. released under 20th Century Fox studios) as well as appealing towards both fans of the comic book source material and the large public of causal moviegoers. Since its first release in 2000, the film franchise has taken off, expanding upon the comic book properties of the X-Men cannon and showcasing the variety of superhumans (dubbed “mutants) and how they interact with the rest of the world (be it good or bad). Each installment has showcased new adventures for the variety cast of X-Men characters to face off against…. whether the human opposition or one of their own. The franchise has seeing its ups and down and even has been rebooted (sort of speak) with the release of the X-Men: First Class back in 20011 by acting as prequel series (before the original firms) with a younger cast to play its already established characters. It’s been debated amongst many of the strength and vitality of this franchise, but it’s definitely has proven to be lucrative and popular movie series to follow for the last nineteen years. In addition, the X-Men movies, while being toted as blockbuster action endeavor of visual effects, have touched upon some worldly social commentary issue on society viewpoints, including acceptance, tolerance, and individuality. Now, 20th Century Fox and director Simon Kinberg present the latest and last chapter of this particular X-Men saga with the film X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Does this final entry in Fox’s X-Men franchise end with a superhero bang or does this mutant saga end on a whimper?

THE STORY


In 1992, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has managed to turn his X-Men team, including Beast / Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Raven Darkholme / Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Scott Summers / Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Ororo Munroe / Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver (Evans Peters), and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) into heroes, accepting calls from the U.S. President when disaster strikes, sending the team into battle and winning the public’s appeal of mutants. During a space shuttle rescue operation, Jean comes into contact with a mysterious cosmic energy force, absorbing its radical power in its entirety. Returning to Earth, the X-Men team begin to see a sudden and unexplainable change within Jean’s telekinetic abilities; causing concern from each one as her power begins to grow unstable within her own uncontrollable rage. With this unruly power swirling with her, Jean soon attracts the attention of Vuk (Jessica Chastain), an alien shapeshifter, who wants to help the struggling young deal with her newly god-like powers. Leaving disaster wherever she goes, Jean seeks help from Magento (Michael Fassbender), and his band of mutants, only to discover that her new capabilities make her an enemy to all, leaving her vulnerably exposed to Vuk’s manipulation.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


I said it many times and I’ll continue to say it again…. I’ve always been a fan of Marvel superheroes. Definitely not a hardcore geek comic nerd, but more of an admirer of its vast properties of superhuman characters and how they all work (good or bad) within Marvel’s comic book universe. The same can be said within the theatrical feature films of these Marvel superheroes. Before Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and even the Guardians of the Galaxy ever graced silver screen in the MCU, the X-Men franchise (as well as the original Spider-Man trilogy) really launched the 2000s era of superheroes for mainstream audience of viewers to really get behind and fully enjoyed. Yes, they’re aren’t quite as super intricate and had some mechanical film / story problems, but the X-Men film series has proven to be quite effective throughout its nineteen-year run. Personally, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: Days of Futures Past, and Logan have been my personal top 3 films of this franchise and definitely showcased the ultimate strength that this long-running movie series by means of storytelling, artistic direction, adaptation of iconic characters, and diverse cast of actors and actress (i.e. actor Hugh Jackman as Logan / Wolverine). To me, the franchise various timeline aspects have been a bit confusing and a certain way to “reworked” and “erase” some of the errors and less unsavory moments that the series has produced, but its definitely for the better (in most cases). A prime example of this was the in the character of Deadpool, who first appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and was woefully done completely wrong, but was fixed and given the best representation of the iconic character in Deadpool (and I think we all can agree on that). In the end, 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise has seen a lot, done a lot, made some mistakes, and even revigorated itself own cannon for moviegoers everywhere throughout its theatrical release timeframe; proving that the concept idea of “mutants” (as Professor Xavier says in X2: Men United) is as follows…..Are mutants the next link in the evolutionary chain or simply a new species of humanity fighting for their share of the world?

As to be expected, the brings me review back X-Men: Dark Phoenix, the fourth installment in the X-First Class series, the seventh X-Men superhero team up feature endeavor, twelfth entry in X-Men movie franchise, and the final feature in 20th Century Fox cinematic mutant saga. To be honest, I was quite surprised to hear that another X-Men movie was announced by Fox a few years back, especially since X-Men: Apocalypse sort of closed the First Class storyline in a kind of conclusion installment. Of course, there was wiggle room for future installment, but I wasn’t expecting it. And yet…. here we are with another X-Men movie. Since I do love the X-Men franchise (both in the comics, cartoon shows, and feature films), I was definitely intrigued to see it, especially coming off the news that it would be another take of iconic Dark Phoenix saga. I’m probably one of the few who liked X-Men: The Last Stand, which first did the Dark Phoenix storyline before, but it definitely wasn’t exactly the best representation of the fan favorite X-Men storyline arc. Still, the idea had my interest and was excited that the movie was bringing back most of the First Class character roster (i.e McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, Hoult, Tuner). Thus, I was excited to see Dark Phoenix, but the movie kept on getting delayed…multiple times. First, it was to be released in November 2018, then it got pushed back to February 2019, and then got pushed back again to June 2019. The decision for this has been ambiguous, but it probably (I assume) had to deal with Disney’s recent acquisition deal of 20th Century Fox as well as the film’s third act to be reworked (involving reshoots). However, the marketing campaign did role out several theatrical trailers for the upcoming movies. Some of them I liked, while other left me feel unimpressed. I’m always a bit on the optimistic side of things (it’s my nature), so I wasn’t completely dismayed about the film’s “sneak peaks” via its movie trailers and was so quite curious to see Dark Phoenix when it came out. Well, the time is here and I finally saw it. What did I think of it? To be honest, it was quite disappointing. The truth of that matter is that X-Men: Dark Phoenix ends up being a lackluster finale to the franchise that really doesn’t feel cinematic engaging nor poignantly entertaining to make a lasting impression. The intention for the film, but it all just is incredibly underdeveloped and terribly executed throughout.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is directed by Simon Kinberg, whose previous works include acting as producer for several recognizable feature films like Deadpool, The Martian, Logan, Cinderella as well as several popular TV shows such as 2019’s The Twilight Zone, Star Wars Rebels, and Designated Survivor. Given his collection (as a producer) to these titles (and several others), Kinberg seemed prime to direct a feature film like Dark Phoenix, which he makes his theatrical debut in the director’s chair for a motion picture. Maybe that’s part of the problem with Dark Phoenix, but I’ll mention more on that below. As for the positives, Kinberg also crafted the feature’s script and approaches the movie with a sense of trying to rein vigor viewers in the Dark Phoenix storyline. Of course, X-Men: The Last Stand told that story before and, despite a few positives, felt like something completely different from its source material. Kinberg tries to make his iteration of the Dark Phoenix story arc to be a bit more faithful adaptation to the comic book, introducing a bit more outer space / cosmic aspects within the narrative. To that effect, Kinberg does succeed in making Dark Phoenix’s storyline a bit more “engaging” and entertaining that what was accomplished in The Last Stand; utilizing the cosmic narrative arc of Jean’s “Phoenix Force”. Heck, even the explanation of how Jean gets it is a bit more understandable than what said in The Last Stand. Even Vuk’s desire for the Phoenix Force inside Jean Grey makes for the outer space realm nuances feel more cinematic interesting.

Naturally, I kind of knew that Kinberg wasn’t gonna make Dark Phoenix an exactly replica of the original comic book story arc, which has way more sci-fi aspects, but I think it’s personally a step in the right direction and showcased a better representation of the Phoenix Force. Plus, in comparison to The Last Stand, Kinberg makes the smart decision to make the whole movie narrative focused on Jean Grey’s plight rather than adding in another major storyline thread into the mix (i.e. the whole “cure” scenario from The Last Stand). Additionally, the action in Dark Phoenix does hold up to be entertaining. It’s not quite engaging or as immersive / visual fun as some of the other X-Men movies (i.e. the opening sequence of X2, or the climatic dual time period showdown in Days of Futures Past, or all the various gritty fight sequences in Logan), but it’s gets the job and does offer up some action scenes to keep a viewer’s attention throughout.

Presentation-wise, Dark Phoenix feels very much “in line” with what a viewer would expect from a superhero blockbuster endeavor. Meaning…. the feature doesn’t really have much in the way of “pushing” the cinematic boundaries of making the film stand out from what’s been “cinematically” done before in either past X-Men movies or in similar superhero movies. Thus, the film’s visual effects, which are showcased in the movie’s action highlight sequences, meet the somewhat industry standards. Some of the effects are cool (with some nifty ideas on how they play out), but it’s nothing truly spectacular from what’s been done in other CGI heavy superhero endeavors. The other technical / filmmaking presentation areas, including cinematography (Mauro Fiore), production designs (Claude Pare), and set decorations team, are well-represented throughout the feature and (again) meet the industry standard for their background aesthetics. Of these categories, what does stand out is the film’s musical score, which was composed by Hans Zimmer. It’s definitely not Zimmer’s absolute best score feature composition piece (nor the very best music in an X-Men movie), but it is still a good movie score and adds to the feature’s tension and action pieces.

Unfortunately, Dark Phoenix isn’t quite as compelling nor entertainingly palpable as it really wants to be as the film faces many problematic areas. Perhaps the most critical point that I have about the movie is that it simply lacks excitement. There’s plenty of going on in Dark Phoenix to fill its runtime, which is 113 minutes long, but nothing really stands out and the feature just feels lackluster from onset to conclusion. To me, the reason stems from Kinberg himself. Like I mentioned above, Kinberg is a producer and makes Dark Phoenix is first directorial motion picture endeavor. Unfortunately, it clearly shows that from the opening scene of the movie, Kinberg stands on shaky ground and lacking experience for a such a large blockbuster superhero feature, especially one that is suppose to be part of a well-established franchise like 20th Century Fox’s X-Men saga. Additionally, with Kinberg penning the feature’s script, the story in the movie feels a bit generic and bland as if he’s pulling ideas from other similar projects. There’re very little aspects of the world’s current state (more on that below), thinly sketched characters build and developments, a flat story / narrative, and just a disappointing feature. Heck, even some theatrical / cinematic scenes in The Last Stand, which is supposed to be the more inferior entry, are much more entertainingly impressive than what Dark Phoenix presents. This plays an instrumental part in Dark Phoenix’s execution and ultimately shaping of the feature, which makes it all feel underwhelming throughout. Thus, perhaps Kinberg wasn’t the best choice to direct this movie after all and his inexperience shows in both the director’s chair and in the script handling.

Dark Phoenix also have varying degrees of pacing problems throughout the movie, with the beginning half of the movie, which is probably the more interesting portion, feels incredible rushed, while latter half feels boring and disjointed; offering up a showdown / conclusion that feels incredibly lackluster. Speak of which, the climatic showdown sequence in the third act feels very much anti-climactic and feels very boring throughout its varying scenes. This is mostly probably due to Kinberg rewriting the third act’s final battle scene, which was said to be somewhat similar to another superhero movie (i.e. Captain Marvel). Even so, the newly written third act piece of Dark Phoenix is very underwhelming and hardly feels exactment or climatic (no pun intended).

There’s also a problem with the inconsistent timeline of what has happened between Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix. In the movie’s world, there is an 11-year time gap difference between the films and Kinberg doesn’t really explain what has happened beyond a few lines of dialogue. What’s been the whole main crux the X-Men movies (as well as the comic books) is the worldly conflict between humanity clashing with mutants and the waging war of accepts of mutants in the world order of mankind. In Dark Phoenix, it’s kind of ambiguous as to what the world’s state of opinion is on the “mutant problem”, with Xavier and his X-Men team being accepted as “heroes”. How did this come about? Is it just them (Xavier’s X-Men) that are recognized as heroes? Are other mutants accepted by public? What is the general world consent on the mutant population? Unfortunately, these questions aren’t answered and feel a certain “inconsistent” problem within explaining the broader picture of Dark Phoenix’s world. Plus, I should also mention that the Kinberg never fully addresses (in Dark Phoenix) Jean Grey’s incredible power that she displays at the end of Apocalypse, which help defeat En Sabah Nur. Basically, the movie completely ignores that point, which renders the impact of Apocalypse’s ending moot.

In addition, First Class and Days of Futures Past certainly use their film’s distinct time period setting to the movie’s story, while Apocalypse….not so much. Dark Phoenix follows Apocalypse in that regard and really doesn’t utilize its early 90s time period…. beyond a few nuances here and there. Thus, Dark Phoenix’s story could’ve taken place in any time period setting, including modern present day. This also brings up the problematic situation of continuity within its characters. In amongst the franchise timelines, Dark Phoenix is set in 1992, which is an eight year away from the original X-Men (2000) is set. The problem? The film’s characters that appear Apocalypse that are in Dark Phoenix haven’t really aged (even in make-up wise) and it’s really hard to believe that they would greatly age in eight from when the original X-Men movie will take place. I know that might sound as a minor quibble, but a little bit aging make-up and / or facial prosthetics would’ve helped make us (the viewers) believe that these characters or rather in how old these characters. Heck, characters like Xavier, Magento, Mystique, and Beast don’t look like they’ve aged a day since they were first introduced in X-Men: First Class, which is set back during the 60s.

The cast in Dark Phoenix is a good one, especially a lot of returning actors / actresses reprise their X-Men character roles in the film. However, as the film’s narrative progresses, these characters have very little growth in the movie and really don’t amount to much substance beyond their character setup and plot point story elements. First there is the character of Jean Grey, who acts as the film’s central main character focus in the story and who is played by actress Sophie Turner. Known for her roles in Game of Thrones, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Barely Lethal, Turner’s acting are fine, but her character is pretty much “going through the motions” throughout. What do I mean? Well, Jean Grey (in Dark Phoenix) only really has three type of character emotions…. scared, sadness, and rage. These three-character beats are what I would’ve expected from Jean Grey’s struggle in the movie, but there has to be more substance within her to make her film’s journey compelling and have a well-roundness to it all. Unfortunately, Dark Phoenix doesn’t have that for Jean Grey as there’s very little “meat on the bone” for the character to be wholesome. Heck, she (the character of Jean) was better developed in Apocalypse than this one….and she’s supposed to be main focus in Dark Phoenix! In the end, Turner’s is fine as Jean Grey (no problems with her acting the part of the character), but she (Turner) nor Kinberg’s script does anything impressively in the movie, which makes the character of Jean Grey rather bland and generic….given the same character-like journey that actress Famke Janssen did for Jean in The Last Stand.

Much like the previous First Class X-Men movies, actors James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender anchor the feature as the seasoned veterans by playing the titular powerful mutant characters of Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Lehensherr / Magento respectfully. Both McAvoy, known for his roles in Atomic Blonde, Spilt, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Fassbender, known for his roles in Steve Jobs, Prometheus, and The Light Between Oceans, are extremely talented actors and have proven in that in both this franchise and other various theatrical projects. Thus, each one easily slides back into their character roles and embraces this cinematic world of mutants and humans with great ease. Meaning….that McAvoy and Fassbender sell their particular character personalities (and that’s a good thing). That being said, it seems like McAvoy and Fassbender are somewhat tried of these characters and give off that particular sense in their performances. They’re still good, but nowhere as nearly as theatrical good as the previous X-Men movies. What’s even more frustrating is that both character arcs for Xavier and Magento in Dark Phoenix is rather thin and doesn’t have much weight in their already established character builds from past X-Men movies. What’s been said and done for both Xavier and Magento are good and almost completed character journeys and Dark Phoenix does little to progress their character plight beyond a few nuances.

As I mentioned with McAvoy’s Xavier and Fassbender’s Erik, Lawrence’s Raven has had a lot of character build in the previous X-Men installments. So much so that her characters doesn’t have much to go with in the movie. What’s been said, done, and ultimately been presented has already been full displayed on her character story / journey arc in the past as Dark Phoenix (i.e. Kinberg) doesn’t know what to do with her. Thus, despite her acting talents, Lawrence’s Raven / Mystique is more like “window dressing” in the film, which is disappointing, especially since her character was somewhat of a driving force in the past three X-Men movies. Much like Jennifer Lawrence, actor Evan Peters (Kick Ass and Never Back Down) gets the very much short end of the stick, with his character of Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver barely in the movie. Of course, he’s always been the side / secondary character in the past two X-Men movies, but he’s always been a sort of “scene stealer” in both Days of Futures Past and Apocalypse. In Dark Phoenix, however, Quicksilver is only the beginning part and that’s it. So disappointing.

The other cast members, who make up the rest of the X-Men team, including actor Nicholas Hoult (Tolkien and Mad Max: Fury Road) as Hank McCoy / Beast, actor Tye Sheridan (Ready Player One and Mud) as Scott Summers / Cyclops, and actress Alexandra Shipp (Straight Outta Compton and Love, Simon) as Ororo Munro / Storm are present in the movie and don’t have few moments (one or two) in the spotlight for the character to take centerstage (be it flashy / visual action scenes or character dialogue), but the inclusion just feels bland and one-dimensional. None of them really standout and are simply there for continuity reasons. Thus, their no real growth nor any character development in these particular beyond a few setup / build nuances.

With a lot of the characters returning, Dark Phoenix only really offers one new main character to the feature and it’s the story’s main antagonist character of the alien shapeshifter leader Yuk, who is played by actress Jessica Chastain. Known for her roles in Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty, and Molly’s Game, Chastain has proven herself to be a very talented actress in Hollywood and her involvement in this movie was one of the reasons that wanted to see Dark Phoenix. Unfortunately, despite her skilled acting and screen presences, Chastain’s performance comes up empty handed in her portrayal of Yuk. Again, this goes back to Kinberg’s script handling in making Yuk a rather weak and unmemorable character throughout the feature. Thus, the idea of a villain is there, but is poorly executed in making the character’s villainy stand out, which makes Chastain’s Yuk rather uninteresting from the word go. There’s simple no meaty substance to her other than desiring to have Jean’s Phoenix Force to herself. In the end, much like Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask in Days of Futures Past and Oscar Issacs’s Apocalypse in Apocalypse, Chastain is underutilized and her character underwhelming.

With the movie focusing on all these characters above, the film’s minor characters, including actress Halston Sage (Paper Towns and The Last Summer) as Dazzler, actor Andrew Stehlin (Spartacus and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny) as Ariki, actress Kota Eberhardt (The (I-Land and The Persian Connections) as Selene, and actress Hannah Emily Anderson (The Purge and Jigsaw) and actor Scott Shepherd (Jason Bourne and Bridge of Spies) as Jean’s parents Elaine and John Grey, are offered very minor roles. Of course, the acting talents behind these characters are good, but the characterizations of these individuals are poorly done, rending most of them as “cogs” in the narrative machine in order to progress “events” forward.

FINAL THOUGHTS


The X-Men faces their greatest threat and its one of their own in the movie X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Director Simon Kinberg’s latest film sees to close out 20th Century Fox’s X-Men cinematic saga by reimagining the iconic comic book storyline for a second go-around movie representation. Unfortunately, despite the story / plot being slightly better than what was achieved in X-Men: The Last Stand and fun to see all of the returning cast reprising their roles (one last time), majority of the film ends up being a colossal disappointment. From the terrible narrative path, to the bland action, to the poorly written characters, to the plethora of wasted talents, to a rushed pacing, to anti-climatic third act showdown, and to an overall lackluster presentation throughout, Dark Phoenix just represents how a good idea on paper can go horribly wrong when translating it to motion picture. Personally, this movie was terribly disappointing and it really does pain me to say that, especially since I really do like a lot of the X-Men films. It’s such a bad way to ending a franchise like X-Men this way that I really do wish I didn’t’ watch it all…. leaving the franchise to close out the final scene in X-Men: Apocalypse. From onset to conclusion, Dark Phoenix (to me) feels profound unnecessary, totally generic, and disappointing underwhelming. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a sad but definite “skip it” as it will leave a bad / sour taste in your mouth, regardless if you’re fan of the X-Men franchise or just simple a causal moviegoer. With the “House of Mouse” (i.e. Disney) now legally owning 20th Century Fox and their film properties (including X-Men), it will be interesting to see how they will reimagine this mutant saga for their expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe in the near future. In the end, when it’s all said and done, X-Men: Dark Phoenix doesn’t rise from the ashes, but rather falls from grace; leaving many viewers out there disappointed and unsatisfied to end this beloved movie franchise on a lackluster finale.

1.9 Out of 5 (Skip It)

Released On: June 7th, 2019
Reviewed On: June 12th, 2019

X-Men: Dark Phoenix  is 113 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language

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