“X-Men” kicked-off the cinematic superhero phenomenon in 2000. Marvel has created multiple franchises from this group of characters — from the core trilogy to the solo “Wolverine” films and the two “Deadpool” installments. The prequel saga, which began with 2011’s “X-Men: First Class”, hasn’t been a favorite of mine. “First Class”, “Days of Future Past” and “Apocalypse” were all passable but less than super.
And the same goes for “Dark Phoenix”, which acts as the final chapter in the younger “X-Men” thread. As finales go, this one doesn’t have much power or impact. That may be because it’s been only two years since Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s strong swan song in “Logan”. It may be because it’s been less than two months since Marvel’s other big crescendo — “Avengers: Endgame”.
Or maybe it’s because early on in the marketing of “Dark Phoenix”, a major character’s death was revealed. If you know what I’m talking about there’s almost no reason to see this movie. And as for that death, it’s… rather confusing in the context of the entire “X-Men” canon. However, this saga is no stranger to messing around with continuity when it come to time and death.
The title “Dark Phoenix” refers to character Jean Grey (played by “Game of Thrones” actress Sophie Turner). During an X-Men rescue mission to save stranded space shuttle astronauts, Jean absorbs all the energy from a mysterious, floating cloud. The strange substance gives her great powers, but also completely takes over her mind and body. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and others try to prevent Jean from becoming a global threat. But the evil Vuk (Jessica Chastain) has other plans.
“Dark Phoenix” is primarily set in 1992, eight years before the release of the first “X-Men”. McAvoy and Fassbender certainly don’t look eight years away from turning into Stewart and Ian McKellen, but you can tell they’re trying to act more mature to make the transition more believable.
As a whole, “Dark Phoenix” is overly dramatic, from the performances to the Hans Zimmer score. The story, which does provide a few surprises, is rather thin and noticeably stretched-out with uninspired action and cyclical dialogue. Even the visuals lack polish. The X-citement meter never gets above a 4.
This is the feature film directorial debut of Simon Kinberg, a producer on most of the “X-Men” films since “First Class”. And you can tell he cares deeply about these characters. But “Dark Phoenix” was simply designed as a means to an end.
However, this does not mark the end of the “X-Men”. The spinoff, “The New Mutants”, unveiled its first trailer in October 2017 and — after reshoots and several delays — has a current release date of April 3, 2020. Maybe a fresh take will help this brand once again rise from the ashes of mediocrity.