Reel Reviews | Dark Phoenix

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

The closing chapter of the X-Men saga arrives with an ambitious telling of a legendary comic book tale in X-Men Dark Phoenix.

These are the heydays for the X-Men. Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) dream is now a reality. Mutants are no longer hated hunted and feared. The X-Men, the model for all mutants, are so revered and respected that they have become the go-to-team when there is trouble. So when the Space Shuttle encounters a menacing cloud of solar rays that is going to destroy the ship, the President calls to rescue the astronauts. On their first space mission, the rescue mission goes well until they discover the captain is still in the ship. Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is tasked with holding the ship together while the captain is rescued. Unfortunately, the last member of the crew is rescued but Jean is bathed in the cloud. Surprisingly to all, Jean survives the ordeal and the team returns home. Everything seems fine until Jean starts to show some impressive and uncontrollable power that she never displayed before the space incident. Jean’s new power and lack of control threaten to destroy the X-Men and the reputation that Xavier has worked so hard to build.

Written and directed by Simon Kinberg from a story created by John Byrne, Chris Claremont, and Dave Cockrum, Dark Phoenix stars Turner and McAvoy along with Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters and Jessica Chastain in what is billed as the last story in the long, convoluted and confusing X-Men saga. This movie is the fourth installment in the X-Men reboot of the trilogy of movies that were made in the early 2000s but yet are actually connected to them due to 2014’s Days of Future Past.

Simon Kinberg makes his directorial debut with this film after serving as a producer for every X-Men and related movie since X-Men: First Class including Deadpool, Logan TV’s Legion and the most recent Fantastic Four. The best part of the movie are the action scenes where we get to see Jean cut loose with The Phoenix Force.

There was much consternation about Kinberg taking over the reins of the movie and rightly so. Despite incredible performances from Fassbender and Hoult, Kinberg seems to have lost the energy and emotion that made the previous movies he produced credible. Despite poor attempts to get the audience to buy into the Jean Grey story, no one really cares about this woman who has unrelatable (and unexplained powers) and what she is going through. The film is as emotionless and detached as Jessica Chastain’s portrayal of Vuk, the leader of the shape-shifting race of aliens called the D’Bari who are hunting Jean Grey for her power.

There are two problems. The biggest problem with Dark Phoenix is the failure of Kinberg to tell the whole “Dark Phoenix” story. Jean Grey is supposed to be the villain from within the X-Men but we don’t really see her do anything truly villainous or evil. The movie is billed as the last of the X-Men movies yet it fails to tell the story and leaves the movie-going audience with more questions than when it came into the film. More distressingly, for fans of the comic book tale, there is a terrible tease at the end of the film that many of them would understand but will feel cheated because the story is incomplete. This is one time that a sequel needs to be made.

The second problem with Dark Phoenix is that it separates itself from all the other movies. The events and outcomes of this movie make it fall out of the already convoluted timeline of the other past X-Men movies. Worse still, with movies like The New Mutants coming (after almost a year of reshoots and restructuring), we spend a lot of time inside Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters but at no time do we even get a glimpse of those new mutants in the movie to come. Thereby, Dark Phoenix fails to connect itself to the future of the franchise as well which is truly confusing because Kinberg is the producer of The New Mutants as well.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a mess. If this is truly the last film for this cast, Kinberg should have taken a note from the MCU on how to wrap up an epic series of movies. Sadly, there will be many who will want to see it for the story but the best advice is to wait for Feige and company to fix it in five years.

Grade: D+