Movie Review: ‘X-Men Dark Phoenix’

Director: Simon Kinberg

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Jessica Chastain

Plot: Whilst on a rescue mission in space Jean Grey of the X-Men absorbs a powerful cosmic force that drives her powers out of control. As she becomes a greater danger to those around her she finds herself running out of people to turn to.

Review: Following the mess of reshoots surrounding Dark Phoenix and, to a greater extent, New Mutants, we weren’t expecting much more than a train wreck. Having seen the first of these two X-Men films we can confidently say it’s not a train wreck. It is a derailment though.

The biggest failing of this film does not happen in this film, rather in the previous Apocalypse. That previous instalment introduced Jean Grey (Turner) and Cyclops (Sheridan) to the current continuity but failed to establish their characters beyond the required minimum. Now that they’ve reached the major part of their arcs we don’t have any connection to them and it’s left to this one film to set things up, invest us in the relationships and deliver a satisfying conclusion.

What we get instead is a relationship between two characters who barely get any screen time together, with the already established relationship with Professor Xavier (McAvoy) playing a larger role. It is appreciated that they went with Xavier as an arrogant dickbag though, much more in keeping with the comic original. Mystique (Lawrence) has been forced into a mother figure relationship with Jean, which has to be established from pretty much nothing. Magneto (Fassbender) only gets brought into the story about halfway through and goes through the motions. Beast (Hoult) is the only member of the crew who gets anything to do other than Xavier and Grey, and proves one of the consistently strong parts of the series.

As to the rest of the ensemble cast, they fare much worse. Their full dialogue could be put on a post-it. Fan favourite Quicksilver (Peters) gets benched very early on while Storm (Shipp) and Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee) get to join in all the fight scenes but nothing more. Those hoping to see more of the massive cast of X-Men on the screen will unfortunately be left wanting, as the only new mutants – Selene and Red Lotus – are Red Shirts.

The action opens with the X-Men jetting off to space after a NASA shuttle loses control amid a solar flare incident. This is a well put together sequence demonstrating all the X-Men powers for those just joining us, including Cyclops’ funky Virtual-Boy adapter. Everything looks to be going smoothly for us in the audience with some clever use of the team dynamic and some real suspense. The X-Men are lauded as heroes and known public figures, which is a nice change for the films, and we later learn that Magneto has set up a commune for mutants on land granted to him by the government, which is a nice nod to the Genosha storyline of the comics. The fan service continues with a picture-perfect appearance by Dazzler in her original disco outfit. When the Phoenix emerges and the story begins proper, however, things get wonky.

Unfortunately Sophie Turner fumbles the ball in her performance. Jean Grey has long been cursed with not having a clear character established until long into the X-Men comic run, having only been characterised as ‘the girl’ for a decade or two. The new film continuity hasn’t taken the chance to reestablish her in a new way, leaving Turner left to go over-the-top and it doesn’t work. McAvoy, Fassbender, Hoult and Lawrence are immensely talented and step into these roles effortlessly and Turner is out of their league. Tye Sheridan doesn’t fare any better, mostly standing around slack jawed.

Rounding out this adventure is Jessica Chastain as a member of an alien force seeking to use the Phoenix energy to rebuild their devastated race. They make for decent villain canon fodder, being able to rapidly heal and being super strong, but they’re only here to get kicked around by the X-Men. Why they turned them into generic Signs type aliens instead of the magnificently feathered Shi-ar is a lost opportunity.

When the X-Men stop delivering awkward dialogue and cut loose with their powers we are fortunate enough to see some of the better implementation of their abilities in recent years. Bryan ‘Human Garbage’ Singer was always weirdly restrained in how the X-Men powers were used, never breaking out of the 1990s SFX mentality where every weather effect from Storm is treated as the central focus of a scene. As an X-Men fan it was very cool seeing Nightcrawler zip around a moving train or Storm effortless summon chain lightning.

On the other hand, what the hell was that turn with Nightcrawler? Where his character goes during the final fight is downright stupid.

We appreciate the fan service that this film offered. A glimpse of Quentin Quire walking the halls of Xavier’s school is fun. But the groundwork simply hasn’t been laid out for a story that’s supposed to carry emotional weight. It’s not among the worst of the series, but it’s not even close to being among the best. A number of actors seem to be taking the chance to leave the franchise behind and its past time we did the same.

Rating: FIVE out of TEN