What a mess.
I actually really enjoy the X-Men movies, overall they’ve been fun and exciting and tap into the little kid in all of us that light up when they see cool mutants with wings and lasers coming out of their eyes. Dark Phoenix is not how this franchise should have ended and it was obvious that there had been so many misfires during the direction and scriptwriting, so much so that it felt like I was watching a clumsy mashup of three different films.
Dark Phoenix follows telekinetic mutant Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and her struggle to control her power after she is hit by a cosmic force during a space mission with the X-Men. Jean can’t control her power and spends a lot of the film staring into the camera while her skin crackles with lava and for some reason an alien colony lead by a eyebrowless and robotic Jessica Chastain is trying to get the cosmic force back. Meanwhile the rest of the X-Men are divided between saving Jean and killing her to protect everybody.
There are a few things wrong with the premise before the film even gets going. First off, the film is banking on us caring about Jean and her relationships with the other X-Men, but this version of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey) barely featured in the previous X-Men instalment and unfortunately Turner doesn’t quite have the star power or chops to hold her own in a franchise finale like this with such little character development. Even if the film had featured the original Jean Grey from the first three films (Famke Janssen), I just don’t think the character is all that interesting anyway, not enough to base an entire film off and certainly not for a series finale.
The film’s creators seem to have forgotten that a lot of the fun of X-Men is seeing them all use their powers. The film’s opening is actually pretty strong, with a cool set piece in space with the different X-Men using their powers to save a fleet of astronauts (Storm using her ice power to seal the broken engines and that sort of thing) and I was hoping for more of that throughout. Unfortunately, the majority of the film is blatantly gritty and depressing, following Jean Grey on the run and whacking us over the head with a thousand close ups of her face while her eyes glow red. Luckily though they wow us with such dazzling one liners as “Bad things happen when I can’t control it… People get hurt… Get out of my head…”
The script is heinous, but the whole subplot of the shape shifting aliens coming to Earth to steal back the pulsating cosmic mass from Jean was so stupid that it was almost a distraction from how boring the bulk of the film was. End of the world subplots in superhero movies have been overdone completely and this was one of the worst and laziest examples I’ve seen. Strangely though, the film’s tone for the final act changed in almost an instant and I laughed out loud when Professor X wheels up to Magneto with the standard “Old friend” routine and he responds with “Cut the old friend shit Charles”. All of a sudden for the last twenty minutes the film actually became pretty good fun with a ripper set piece with all the mutants fighting against the aliens on a moving train and showcasing their powers. But then the film ends bizarrely with the school being renamed after Jean for some reason and Professor X and Magneto playing chess.
Like I said, this has been a fun franchise, but I did feel disappointed that it ended like this. Gritty and raw can work for comic book movies, Logan is testament to that, but sometimes it doesn’t and Dark Phoenix unfortunately is a bleak and disappointing conclusion to something which deserved a lot more.
By Jock Lehman