Dark Phoenix (2019)
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Jessica Chastain, Nicholas Hoult
Directed by: Simon Kinberg
Synopsis: After an outer space rescue mission, psi-powered mutant Jean Grey is possessed by a greater power that threatens herself and the world.
What fail(s): As an ardent and devout X-men fan that dates back to me buying my first graphic novel collection book of The Dark Phoenix Saga, I originally wasn’t going to review this film because really, what’s the point—this flick was basically DOA. I was even on the fence to actually seeing it on the big screen because, frankly, the previews looked lackluster to say the least. Well, I’m sitting here wasting my free time on a Friday afternoon because I actually didn’t hate the flick. But I want to talk about what failed me first before I get to what I liked.
First if all, the Dark Phoenix saga is not the easiest comic book movie to adapt. It not only spans a few years as a slow boil to how Jean Grey gets the Phoenix Force power and then it consumes her but it also involves a lot of backstory to Jean’s past (the movie changed the fact that she mentally linked with a dying friend when she was a kid to her accidentally killing her parents in a car crash—and then Professor X mentally botching his attempt to control her grief). It also involves mind manipulation from other villains, not introduced in the movies. The saga then heavily involves cosmic characters, races and planets that we never heard of before in any of the X-Men movies. I realize that getting all this properly adapted would’ve been a whole Mutant Cinematic Universe akin to the MCU. The X-Men movies went one a time and really only worried about one movie at a time with a new mutant threat each new installment. I also realize that they probably knew that this was the last one before Disney bought 21st Century Fox so this is totally moot anyway. But it would’ve been a tremendous effort and maybe a success if Fox did what the MCU did with just the X-Men properties.
So introducing an alien race and cosmic characters into one flick that really have no ties to X-Men’s history was a major misstep on the writer’s part. I have zero problems with the outer space rescue mission aspect and having Jean gain more power from the solar flares or whatever gave her the greater Phoenix Force. However, having the alien race the D’Bari the main antagonists was not only silly but a wasted effort. I’m also annoyed that the filmmakers pretty much forgot that in the finale of X-Men: Apocalypse that Jean already had the Phoenix Force. She defeated Apocalypse with that power. Now, it’s possible the writers assumed that we didn’t need a scene that maybe explained that the solar flare’s heightened that power, or even corrupted it. If they had such a scene, then I’d be OK with all that.
Again, like X-Men: Apocalypse, they totally fucked up Magneto (and wasted Michael Fassbender). They really stopped caring about his main motivation about being hostile of the human race and wanted domination over humans to take care of his own mutant-kind. Not only that but they seemed to totally forgo the whole idea that he tried to kill not one, but two, US presidents and then almost annihilate the world as one of Apocalypse’s minions on the last few movies, to him gaining a small island to live peacefully from the US government as a safe-haven for other mutant refugees. Dumb. What they should’ve done was Magneto living on that island as a hostile nation-state to humankind and then being the main adversary in trying to manipulate Dark Phoenix for his own nefarious plans. Hell, even The Last Stand tried, unsuccessfully, to have that as Magneto’s plan. It works well that way though because then the X-Men are fighting a nameless horde of shape-shifting aliens that we just met. If it was Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants fighting the X-Men over Jean Grey’s power and soul, that would’ve been a great capper to this tired franchise. The whole point to X-Men is using one’s feared and mistrusted mutant powers for good and fighting other fellow mutants that use their powers to terrorize. Instead, Magneto refuses to help Jean when she comes to him for aid, then for some reason (TBH: I fell asleep around this time—late movie, I apologize) he then wants to kill her. Then for another some unexplained reason, he flip-flops again to wanting to save her when the alien’s attack them. He basically did the same thing for the past 3 movies now. They really dropped the fucking ball with one of the greatest comic book villains. Unforgivable.
What work(s): So, why didn’t I hate it? Fair question actually. There’s a lot to be disappointed by but I think the ‘A’ for effort is what made me be OK with this flick. Was it somewhat boring—yes for most of it. But not the action scenes. I recently watched X-Men: Apocalypse because I only saw it that one time and hated it even more the second-viewing. My review speaks for itself but I noticed that that movie had only two fight scenes and one of them was a quick scuffle Thunderdome-style with Angel and Nightcrawler that lasted maybe 2 minutes. All it had was the Quicksilver scene saving the students while the mansion exploded and the lame end battle. (The Wolverine berserker killing spree kinda counts I suppose) Dark Phoenix totally upped the game with some decent mutant battles. The last half hour or so is non-stop action showcasing some decent fight choreography and effects. Even the first fight when the X-Men confront Jean outside her old house was decently done. So while the film is dampened by the weak plot and storytelling, the action is better than the last flick at least.
I was also noticing that the music was better than usual. Didn’t know until after the movie that the great Hans Zimmer scored it. So kudos to him for giving this lackluster flick some life in that regard.
Overall: I was so ready and expecting this to be a total turd the moment I sat down in the theatre. And then my annoyance started within moments when they used Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London (from 1978) on a car radio where the subtitles told us it was 1975. The laziness set me off immediately. And then I was scratching my head trying to figure out how Professor X was driving a car when he’s a paraplegic. Then I chuckled sadly when Professor X telepathically asks NASA what the problem with the space craft in orbit around the Earth was AFTER the X-Men are already en route to save the astronauts. Professor X already was tasked by the POTUS to save those astronauts. Stupid writing and my mindset was all for nitpicking stupid mistakes immediately. But anyway, once the story got rolling I calmed down, then dozed off a bit and woke up in time for the story to really get cooking. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a great movie but it had its moments. I think it just wasn’t the right time to do this adaptation of a much-beloved story from the comics. Like I said, if they MCU-ed the X-verse so aliens weren’t introduced out pf the blue then this may have worked. I’m also confused why they time-jumped to the 90s when this made zero impact or influence on the story and only added confusion to no aging among these characters. The gimmick didn’t matter at all. AT ALL! Anyway, I wouldn’t rush to see this if you have your reservations about spending your well-earned money and time on this. However, see it later on when it’s cheaper and more convenient for you. While I love the X-Men and enjoyed most of these movies in the franchise, I greatly look forward to Disney now owning the cinematic rights and hopefully they can right the ship in the MCU.
Score: 4 Vuking Better Than the Last One (out of 10)