X-Men: Dark Phoenix is not only the final instalment of the near-two decade-long superhero franchise, but it is also the second attempt by 20th Century Fox to adapt the classic Dark Phoenix storyline from the comics, last attempted in 2006’s calamitous X-Men: The Last Stand. Expectations for this should therefore be rather high, yet it appears that there are very few concerned that the film exists, seemingly the filmmakers too.
The story is set in the 1990s, and follows the now matured X-Men team as they fight their greatest challenge yet: conflict with one of their own. A young and volatile Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) gains extraordinary powers after she is hit by a solar storm on a mission to rescue a crew of stranded astronauts. She becomes increasingly frustrated at Charles Xavier (James McAvoy)’s efforts to keep her “safe”, while a mysterious threat in the form of Vuk (Jessica Chastain) threatens to unhinge Jean’s powers and release a terrible wrath upon the world.
What should feel like a cinematic milestone for the X-Men franchise is rather just another flimsy adaption of the epic Dark Phoenix saga. Admittedly the opening 20 minutes-to-half an hour are brilliant; it is a delight to see the X-Men – in this instance led by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) – acting as a fully-fledged unit like the original films of the 2000s. Yet beyond the first act, it is hard to invest oneself in the narrative when it becomes apparent that no-one is really interested enough to develop most of the main characters’ arcs for audiences.
This is because too much happens off-screen, especially so in between this film and X-Men: Apocalypse (the previous instalment set in the 1980s). Resultantly, viewers are simply expected to accept the misguided direction of Dark Phoenix at face value, a mistake no film should ever allow itself to make. To paraphrase Yoda, lazy writing leads to poor acting, poor acting leads to uncomfortable viewing, and uncomfortable viewing… leads to suffering. Okay certain liberties were taken with that passage, but dwell on the past, we will not.
However, one can’t help but think that Dark Phoenix should have considered its past a little more here. Audiences are very familiar with these characters, and after the incredible heights reached with 2014’s Days of Future Past, it’s bizarre that this final instalment in Fox’s X-Men saga feels so personally inconsequential to everyone involved. Nevertheless, director Simon Kinberg hasn’t been dealt the best of hands with this film. Dark Phoenix is essentially the ‘lame duck’ of the franchise; already bought by Disney, Fox simply doesn’t care what happens with this project. The characters will be rebooted regardless, profits aren’t important for the sold-out company, so there’s little incentive for producers to make this the last blast it ought to have been. For a $200 million budget though, it’s still reasonable to say fans expected a LOT more.
Another franchise succumbs to the ‘Mouse House’ and once again audiences can only hope they end up doing a better job than Fox generally have over the years. Dark Phoenix concludes the X-Men franchise disappointingly, but it’s difficult to imagine many people are bothered that the series is over at this stage.
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