The X-Men series has been very hit and miss for me. There have been some great highs with films like X-Men: First Class and Logan and some real lows like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: Apocalypse. Now though, we have come to the end of this series of X-Men films before the rights to the X-Men go to Marvel with Disney buying Fox. This was the chance for the X-Men series to go out on a high after the disappointment of Apocalypse. I will say that Dark Phoenix is a better film than Apocalypse, but that is damning with faint praise.
Taking place 10 years after the events of Apocalypse, the film follows the X-Men, who are now national heroes and have helped to usher in a new period of growth in the relationship between mutants and humanity. During a mission to save the crew of a space shuttle from what appears to be a solar flare, Jean Grey absorbs the full brunt of the flare which fills her with the Phoenix Force, a powerful cosmic entity that has the power to destroy planets, which also lifts mental blocks placed on Jean by Charles Xavier which blocked the memory of Jean accidentally killing her mum from her mind. After finding out, Jean goes into hiding where she is found by Vux, the leader of the D’Bari, an alien race whose planet was destroyed by the Phoenix Force, with the question being whether the X-Men can stop Jean before she creates a similar catastrophe on Earth. Now the big problem with the film is how inconsequential the whole thing feels. This should be the big finale of the X-Men series but the whole thing feels very low stakes and low energy. The Dark Phoenix story in the comics and the 90s animated series (which was my introduction to the story) is this big, cosmic epic but here the film goes through a series of generic locations, none of which are given enough of a visual identity to make them unique. This is especially bad when we get to Genosha, which should be this vibrant, strong mutant community, but here is just a field with maybe 20 people tops in there. There’s very little sense of scale or power to the film and I just ended up being bored watching it. Even the introduction of aliens to the X-Men universe, which probably should have been a bigger deal since there was no indication in any of the other main series X-Men films that aliens were a thing, feels very small and, especially given how Vux is portrayed, feels like a last minute decision to give the film greater weight than it has. Speaking of which, the reshoots for the film are insanely obvious, with it being clear that the film was made to address concerns over the way The Last Stand handled the Dark Phoenix story, with the set up to the Phoenix Force from Apocalypse being completely ignored. This is where Vux comes in because it feels like the original intention for the character was for her to be a physical embodiment of the Phoenix Force rather than for her to be an alien and you can tell how choppy the production was when this element was changed. There’s not really much to say about the story of the film, everything is just so generic and focus grouped that there doesn’t seem to be any artistic vision in the film at all.
The performances meanwhile are a mixed bag. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are fine here, they’re trying their best to give Professor X and Magneto the depth they deserve and the best scenes in the film are when the two interact with each other, but the script is not strong enough to support them. Sophie Turner is better here than she was in Apocalypse, looking like she is engaged in the material here, but we aren’t given enough time with Jean before the Phoenix Force enters her to really see how the character has changed and, whilst Turner is engaged in the film, it’s still not a good performance as you can clearly tell how the character changed through the reshoots. Jennifer Lawrence looks bored out of her mind here, the make-up for Mystique screaming that Lawrence only agreed to be in the film if she could spend the bare minimum amount of time in the make-up chair. This is also the case with Nicolas Hoult as Beast who looks bored through the Beast make-up and the character arc he goes through doesn’t make sense for the character. Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Alexandra Shipp are fine, if completely wasted, whilst Evan Peters gets a few small moments as Quicksilver and is then taken out of the movie in a way that feels like the filmmakers knew they made Quicksilver ludicrously overpowered and taking him out early was the only way to give the film any stakes. Jessica Chastain meanwhile is clearly trying but is completely wasted and the way she plays Vux and how she interacts with the other cast in some scenes are what convinced me that Vux was not Chastain’s original role in the film, she goes from scene to scene playing completely different characters with no effort made to hide it.
The technical side of the film also feels underwhelming. The only part of the film that has some vibrancy is Hans Zimmer’s score, but even that isn’t enough to salvage the film. Most of the film just feels cheap, from the production design being very murky and bland to the CG (despite some decent moments) looking a bit fake, to how much worse the make-up for Mystique looks here compared to First Class. As a director meanwhile, Simon Kinberg clearly went in too deep for his directorial debut. It’s clear that he has had difficulty getting his head around the action scenes and how to frame big, epic moments and there’s no sense of life or danger in any of the action scenes.
Overall, Dark Phoenix is an underwhelming end to the X-Men series. There’s nothing really terrible about the film but there’s also nothing to help it stand out. There are a handful of interesting moments and most of the cast are clearly trying, which at least makes it better than Apocalypse but I found myself bored watching the film. There’s no sense of fun to be had and nothing to really make it stand out amongst the other superhero films. I ultimately just felt nothing watching the film, and sometimes that can be worse than feeling angry.
My Rating: 2/5