The marketing campaign told us “The Phoenix Will Rise” and “The X-Men’s final mission will be their finest”, neither of those statements turned out to be true. Here are some positive-sounding quotes that Disney can take for the Home Entertainment release each 100% more truthful.
“Dark Phoenix is something that occurred for the duration of time that’s associated with a feature film.”
“I had a delightful nap in a near-empty cinema.”
“Jennifer Lawrence is in this film for a bit!”
As you might be able to tell, I wasn’t a huge fan of the endgame for the Fox era of X-Men, to be blunt it was a chore to get through without screaming into a pillow. I’m unsure why some highly reputable review outlets have gone for three stars; this is a half star movie. For reasons void of logic, the story skips on nearly a decade on from Apocalypse (after a pitstop to 1975 for a brief introduction to Jean Grey as a child), and Xavier’s School for the Gifted is thriving. However, a hastily cobbled together mission to space to save a band of astronauts exposes Jean (Sophie Turner) to an energy force that gives her unlimited power and unlocks her darker impulses.
Having helped butcher The Dark Phoenix Saga once with X-Men The Last Stand, Simon Kinberg writes and makes his directorial debut with this second attempt to get it right. The signs that Dark Phoenix was in trouble have been in plain sight for ages with its multiple release date changes, reshoots, and poor test screenings. To his credit, Kinberg openly admits that he’s to blame for the film’s failures, but why Fox thought an unproven director could tackle a $200 million budgeted tentpole, that remains a mystery, for now.
After the course correct brilliance of Days of Future Past, the X-Men franchise had limitless potential with a fan-approved fresh start. The Last Stand never happened! Origins was a cheese dream! The goodwill DOFP generated was almost immediately squandered with the next sequel, the aptly named Apocalypse, so audiences were already fatigued before Dark Phoenix rocked up in cinemas. The trailers already spoilt this, but if you don’t want plot details (such as they are) ruined, look away now. Jennifer Lawrence is so visibly bored in this franchise that when her BIG MOMENT comes, it has no impact. Raven’s death is mishandled, but it reeks of an early exit in the film was a condition of Lawrence extending her already completed contract.
After Jean’s accidental murdering of Raven(and Even Peters’ Quicksilver is speedily benched), she flees to a mutant sanctuary run by none other than Magneto (Fassbender showing up suspiciously late in the film). If Eric hasn’t learned by now that every time he sets up shop away from conflict, it always ends badly. True to form, Jean shows up with the military in pursuit, a few things go bang, blah blah blah. I’m sorry, I am trying to be vaguely professional, but this film was a hard watch. Cast-wise, it’s not just Lawrence that is on autopilot, aside from Nicolas Hoult doing his level best with next to nothing it’s only James McAvoy that injects any life into his character. Jessica Chastain’s Vuk is another copy and paste villain with murky objectives.
The whole sorry mess limps its way towards a stakes free finale that’s void of any emotion or lasting impact. The legacy of any TV show or movie is often (unfairly) defined by the final instalment. Endgame, and the belated Deadwood farewell both managed near impossible feats by delivering on expectations. Just for the record, Deadwood perfectly wraps things up without much fan pandering and should be held as the gold standard for how to bring closure to beloved characters. For a franchise that kick-started the superhero craze, X-Men deserved a better goodbye.
On a side note, there is no reason for the film to be set in the 90s beyond the gimmick (that is never used) of seeing these characters in the 90s. Why has nobody aged more than the time in-between sequels? Do all mutants age slower? Let’s not forget that we are only eight years away from the events of the first X-Men movie. I’m well aware that the original trilogy was wiped out after Days of Future Past, but Charles Xavier still looked like Patrick Stewart, and Eric was decidedly more Ian McKellen themed. I know it seems like a minor fault to make a meal out of in a movie full of massive problems, but it really annoyed me more than it should.
Ultimately, Dark Phoenix is a collection of all the worst habits from the entire X-Men franchise rolled up into one overwhelmingly boring sequel. There might be a better film from all the footage that was shot, but this is a joyless finale that looks like it wasn’t much fun to make. Venom might have been bad, but it at least had some entertainment value.