Here we go again. In this tiresome age of superhero do-overs, we now have the retelling of the Phoenix storyline first told in X-Men: The Last Stand. If memory serves, these “prequel” movies are supposed to co-exist with the original X-Men movies up to the 1974 timeline disruption from Days of Future Past. Meaning, from a purely continuity perspective, most of the same rules should apply here and the filmmakers should be telling more or less the same Phoenix story again. But like X-Men: Apocalypse, they throw continuity to the wind and add yet another decade-long time jump to 1992 (that’s right, 2011’s First Class characters are supposed to be 30 years older here!), so they can tell a bland and tonally-uneven conclusion to X-Men that neither honors the 19-year film franchise nor justifies Dark Phoenix’s now-infamous reshoots.
The U.S. President calls upon the help of the world-renowned X-Men, led by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), to save a group of astronauts who are stranded dangerously close to an approaching solar flare. A small team is dispatched to outer space, and just as the final astronaut is saved, the solar flare leeches onto the mind-reading, telekinetic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). But instead of killing her, it makes her even more powerful. After returning to Earth, a group of aliens (led by Jessica Chastain) lands in search of the mutant who absorbed the energy of the solar flare. But Jean is no longer in control of her emotions much less her powers and soon goes on an involuntary rampage destroying anything and everything in her path.
First-time director Simon Kinberg is proof that screenplays and movies are two very different things as he does not possess the vision to convert readable script to watchable screen. Even worse is the fact that most of the cast sleepwalks their way through their performances. James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult actually make an effort, but everyone else is just collecting a paycheck. Jessica Chastain’s emotionless and nameless alien is one of those could-be-played-by-anybody characters. But no one is more wasted than the star of the show, Jean Grey. Jean jumps from one extreme emotion to another but with no personality to tie them together. Her love for Scott (Tye Sheridan) is barely touched upon, and the guilt she feels for what happened to her parents when she was younger is more plot device than character development. The prime focus is on what she is rather than who she is, meaning everything she does or doesn’t do, on one end of the spectrum or the other or anywhere in between, is neither in character nor out of character. This is Jean Grey’s movie and she is by far the least interesting and least likable character in it.
Since Days of Future Past, the younger X-Men crew have been struggling to leave a lasting impression, and Dark Phoenix is no help. James McAvoy’s Xavier storyline is mostly a retread of what Patrick Stewart went through in The Last Stand. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto is out for revenge…again. And the rest of the X-Men—Scott, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and even Quicksilver (Evan Peters)—are just Oompa Loompas to keep the factory running. The action sequences can be a welcome distraction at times, but as soon as the action’s over, it’s back to the dismal narrative. At no point do you connect with any of the characters or feel any sense of danger. Charles and Erik having differing worldviews is so old-news it feels pre-historic. Mystique and Beast suppressing their blue appearances for a more human look (while amongst fellow mutants, mind you) serves no purpose other than to show off antiquated CGI effects. Nightcrawler losing his temper and going on a mini-rampage is probably more humorous than the filmmakers intended. Don’t expect any dangling plot threads to get tied up either (i.e. Quicksilver’s father). As for the alien threat, they’re neither properly defined nor do they ever extend beyond one-dimensional villain status. X-Men was created as a response to the Civil Rights Movement, so to have an alien race portrayed as “They’re different so they’re evil” is very much the opposite of everything X-Men is supposed to stand for and utterly disrespectful to the memory of the late, great, Stan “The Man” Lee.
As the final movie from a franchise that began in 2000, Dark Phoenix is just an insult. One last cash-grab before the rights are shuffled over to Disney. Apocalypse was a bad movie made by accomplished filmmakers, but Dark Phoenix feels both unprofessionally made and unwanted by everyone involved. It’s a forgettable story told through a perpetually somber tone that unintentionally elevates The Last Stand by comparison. To end a 19-year franchise on an inferior remake of a mediocre sequel should be enough to blacklist the people who decided this. If you want a real ending to X-Men, stick with either Logan or Days of Future Past, and avoid Dark Phoenix like a slap in the face.
1 out of 5