Dir: Simon Kinberg
Starring: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Jessica Chastain
Before “The Avengers”, before “The Justice League”, before “Spider-Man”, the foundation for the modern era model for comic book movie franchises was started with a 2000 film called “X-Men”. Nineteen years later and the X-Men have gone from wrapping up one storyline to rebooting the entire series of characters altogether, the twelfth installment of the long-standing franchise concludes once again with the film “Dark Phoenix”.
Director Simon Kinberg, who has produced a wealth of action and comic book films, helms his first feature with “Dark Phoenix”. Unfortunately the results aren’t terrific but there are moments of potential with certain characters and with some of the moments of spectacle. For a franchise that has seen its progression roller coaster from fantastic heights to disappointing depths, “Dark Phoenix”, though not the worst in series, deserved a better sendoff for its characters and storyline.
Professor Xavier’s (James McAvoy) School for Gifted Youngsters has grown into a veritable superhero training academy and, for some, a safe place for young mutants to educate themselves and hone their powers for inclusion into the “normal” world. Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Professor X’s prized pupil, continues to develop at staggering pace along with the rest of the young team which features Ororo “Storm” Munroe (Alexandra Shipp), Scott “Cyclops” Summers (Tye Sheridan), and the team leaders Raven “Mystique” (Jennifer Lawrence) and Hank “Beast” McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). During a mission into space the X-Men team encounter a powerful force that embeds itself into Jean Grey, turning her into an unstoppable force consumed by anger and rage.
The character of Jean Grey is a fascinating and intriguing villain, a force of dominance amongst the X-Men world but also a character with a rich backstory who is directly connected to all the core characters in this world. There are narrative themes associated with trauma that shape the story early in “Dark Phoenix”; Jean has a past steeped in pain and sorrow, her newly achieved power opens up these memories that Professor Xavier has been trying to hide, unknowingly adding to the traumatic elements that Jean has already experienced in her life. The story does a nice job initially of displaying the turmoil Jean has been through but also proposing that Professor Xavier’s best intentions for the mutant world may be more self-serving than helpful. It’s a nice element introduced for these characters.
Unfortunately, these interesting insights and intriguing narrative themes dissipate as Jean grows into a force that is being hunted by the X-Men, the Government, and an old foe named Magneto (Michael Fassbender). The film quickly introduces another villain, a rogue group of alien beings led by a determined and stoic Jessica Chastain, and all the work to establish “Dark Phoenix” like a Jean Grey focused film disappears into the same familiar formula we’ve seen before in the X-Men Universe before. While this narrative formula isn’t necessarily bad, there are some nicely composed battles and some interesting references for fans, after twelve films it just feels overly familiar.
Sophie Turner, unfortunately, isn’t provided the proper character to develop here, any nuance of emotion is replaced with big bursts of raw anger and sadness that never feels necessary or provides the scenes with the kind of power they are shooting for. Ms. Turner is a talented actress capable of so much more. Even Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy aren’t provided the character structure to build upon. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto character doesn’t change much throughout these films, so the actor does a decent job of being brooding and filled with rage, hellbent for revenge.
“Dark Phoenix” has a few moments when the action takes over, director Simon Kinberg seems most comfortable during these big scenes, nicely composing effects with crisp clarity and utilizing the best abilities from the characters to showcase some great fight moments. It’s a shame that more attention wasn’t provided towards the story or characters interacting throughout. The film is trying hard to rise above the other films in this franchise, though it’s far from terrible, “Dark Phoenix” gets lost along the way.
2.75 out of 5.00