In the world of the multitude of on-screen X-Men, “Dark Phoenix” comes in as possibly the worst entry into this universe yet. The film’s approach to the previously told tale is unnecessarily complicated and leaves its audience with far more questions than answers. It is, like its 2006 counterpart “X-Men: The Last Stand,” yet another example of a failure to tell a successful and engaging story using these characters — not to mention that the film has a startling lack of originality. In the context of the modern media landscape, this could be forgivable, but because of the wealth of stories that the X-Men offer, this lack of originality becomes a grave transgression.
“Dark Phoenix” follows Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) as her power faces an unprecedented growth spurt at the expense of her mental deterioration. Grey must cope with both of these things while her former team is out for her blood. If the premise sounds familiar, that’s because it is. It is a story told before, not only through the X-Men franchise’s handling of Grey in former films, but also through this same franchise’s treatment of a different female team member: Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).
Since the colossal disappointment “X-Men: Apocalypse” (a movie so forgettable it seems that even the X-Men have left it behind), the formidable blue antihero has abandoned her former Mystique alias to go solely by Raven. In this film, Raven is used as the fodder to feed the witch hunt for Grey’s Dark Phoenix, and the irony of doing so is just one of the many eyebrow-raising choices made in the film. The parallels between the two characters are rich, and in attempting to showcase the relationship between them, the film seems to try and tap into this. But in the eventual fallout of the pair’s relationship, this dynamic is all but forgotten, and the resulting conflict becomes more parody than high stakes.
This is especially evident in the ensuing head-to-head conflict between Team Magneto and Team Professor X. It’s a conflict that, as in any X-Men film, is to be expected, but all the iterations of this battle have rendered it tedious.
The two teams go head-to-head in a battle that amounts to them essentially crossing the street — and they aren’t even really able to do that, as Dark Phoenix flexes new power and new leadership to telekinetically bring them to her. In the end, both Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) are at the mercy of her rage. And while the scene is successful in its depiction of her insurmountable new ability — with Phoenix gruesomely abusing both Professor X’s most significant weakness and Magneto’s strength — it undermines itself through its own absurdity.
And as an aside regarding the two patriarchs of the X-Men universe, it must be said that both Magneto and Professor X are ridiculously young considering the former was a grown man during the Holocaust. Even with the timeline placing this film in the ‘90s, this is a hard pill to swallow.
But in the face of a lack of plausibility, the film does deliver stellar performances. Turner’s tortured Grey is as nuanced as the material allows, and the former Queen in the North fills Famke Janssen’s shoes well.
To contrast, Alien threat Vuk (Jessica Chastain) is underwhelming, stilted instead of vicious. It is a performance plagued by threats, with little follow-through and shallow motivation. And even though Chastain brings all of her seasoned grace to the role, the character is lost in the fray of what amounts to a conclusion of a franchise dwarfed by Marvel Studios’ own epic last stand.
“Dark Phoenix” is a collection of shallow highs and deep lows, and it acts as an disenchanting farewell to Fox’s X-Men. With the future of this team hanging in the balance of Disney’s recent acquisition of the studio, one can only hope that the world of the X-Men will triumphantly rise from the ashes.
Contact Areyon Jolivette at [email protected].