With all of the rumors, buzz, and delays in the lead up to Dark Phoenix, you’d think the film was a disaster of a film. The end product though is neither good nor bad. It just kid of “is.” Rounding out the newest quartet of Fox‘s X-Men films before they’re inevitably rebooted by Marvel, the film is a bunch of good ideas taken in the wrong direction.
The film adapts the classic comic story The Dark Phoenix Saga with some twists and other material. Originally written by Chris Claremont with art by John Byrne, it’s a storyline that was also borrowed from in X-Men: The Last Stand, the last film in the original X film trilogy. Unlike X-Men: The Last Stand, this film isn’t a complete total disaster.
The story is simple. Infused with a comic force, Jean Grey’s powers are expanded and extended to a point she has trouble controlling them. And from there, disaster strikes pitting her against forces that want to control her and help her.
Dark Phoenix borrows liberally from the original material (the D’Bari and Vuk are included) as well as other storylines. Mainly that Charles Xavier is a completely horrible human being.
That’s really where the film revolves. Charles Xavier has done horrible things, mainly dealing with Jean Grey, and those decisions are coming back to haunt him. The exploration that the X-Men are a vanity project of his is there. An extension of his ego that he knows what’s right.
And that’s what’s frustrating about the film. The concepts are all there. The themes are all there. There’s an interesting psychological/thinking film within. Writer and director Simon Kinberg never seems to want to really commit to that, instead delivering a fairly popcorn focused film. The lessons from Logan are both present and not. These films can be more than just big action sequences. And even those sequences are underwhelming.
The Phoenix Force itself looks like leftover FX of Galactus from Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The climactic train sequence has moments that are both inspired and not. Too much space is present making the sequence feel empty and not focused on a primary point. Magneto, Nightcrawler, and Storm get moments to truly stand out. Especially the latter two characters. The train sequence almost makes up for it. It also had me thinking how Snowpiercer has shown that a film on a train can be amazing.
But, back to the plot….
The film is lazy. Characters come in and out of scenes and sequences without explanation (D’Bari for example). Foreshadowing is so present you almost expect the characters to look at the camera with a smirk. Kinberg’s direction feels like it doesn’t have an “eye” or “vision.” Shots are panned out too far and don’t focus on one thing. It’s a scattered vision for a scattered film. And the cast as a whole feels like they’re phoning it in.
The film feels like it knows it’s the end as opposed to setting something else up. And the cast are in on that reality. The acting is… subpar at best. There’s some laughable line delivery. The audience literally laughed. The make-up itself too is distracting with the women sporting caked on make-up with slight sparkles. It all feels very low budget and B-movie but at the same time a very high budget film. With a reported $200 million budget, the movie just feels like everyone is checking boxes off and going through the motion.
The true joy of the film, as it has been in a few X films is “spot the mutant.” There’s lots of “guest” appearances such as Disco Dazzler, Kitty Pryde, and Quinton Quire. When you find yourself paying more attention to background characters than the main cast, you have issues. And even that feels cheap. The make-up here too isn’t present enough and there are moments where in a panned out scene someone looks normal and up close there’s some make-up to say “mutant.” Most of the mutants just look like average individuals, with nothing spectacular about it. I guess prosthetics and costumes weren’t in the budget. Much like everything else, it feels a bit halfassed.
What’s weird though is, the film is somewhat enjoyable. It’s not one I want to pay full price to see but in a matinee or on television, it’s worth the svelte 113 minutes it’ll cost in time.
Dark Phoenix has some bang moments and you can see where it could have been great. Much like the Phoenix Force itself, the film both creates and destroys the legacy of the previous three films. It’s neither good nor bad. It just is.
Overall Rating: 6 out of 10