About a half-hour into “Dark Phoenix,” Raven Darkhölme asks Hank McCoy if maybe it’s time for them to move on from the “X-Men.”
Raven is taking stock of her status in the group and realizing that McCoy and she are the last of their class still active. The conversation could easily serve as a metaphor that maybe it’s best to close the book on this series.
The 12th installment of the “X-Men” series in almost 20 years, “Dark Phoenix” is the final production made at its original home at 20th Century Fox. It’s assumed the series eventually will be rebooted as part of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Covering a comic book story already adapted in 2007’s “X-Men: The Last Stand” (which was later removed from the canon via “X-Men: Days of Future Past”) “Dark Phoenix” sends the once-acclaimed series off with an explosion and a shrug.
The movie centers on the paternal relationship between the mind-reading Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and the mind-controlling orphan Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). From an early point, Jean is taken under his wing, with the promise that he will protect her.
With the X-Men gaining acceptance with their once-contentious human counterparts, Xavier’s ego is growing. He’s getting magazine covers and hosting dinners with the president. To keep the mutant group in good standing with humans, he’s on the lookout for the group’s next big rescue. That comes when a shuttle gets caught in a loop in outer space with a mysterious cosmic force.
Attempting to save the astronauts, Grey absorbs the force. When she returns to Earth, every annoyance or noise triggers her to become a glowing, sonic blast of rage and confusion.
Since none of the X-Men can harness Grey’s power, an albino alien shapeshifter (played by Jessica Chastain) wants to take advantage of her rapidly expanding force to help rebuild her colony on Earth. Xavier and his students aren’t down for that idea, so they spar in a mansion, a train and space.
The directorial debut of Simon Kinberg, who also wrote most of the “X-Men” films, “Dark Phoenix” follows in the stylistic footsteps of disgraced director Brian Singer’s dimly lit, dull predecessor, “X-Men: Apocalypse.”
The commitment of Michael Fassbender, reprising his role as Magneto, and McAvoy to the movie’s silliness is admirable. When the former engages into a force-off with Grey, where both are waving their hands wildly as they try to pilot a helicopter with their mind, you can’t help but feel both embarrassment and respect for both.
For all the action that’s packed into “Dark Phoenix’s” near two-hour running time, it feels like nothing happens. There are no new mutants to meet. The ones from past films don’t get any further development. The villain’s entire backstory is told in a passing sentence.
Despite some good performances, everyone in this feels as if they’re fulfilling a contractual obligation, rather than gleefully jumping back into the shoes of iconic superheroes. The choppy editing and Kinberg’s bland direction feels like the studio wanted to get this out quickly before it merged with Disney and nullified this iteration of the franchise altogether.
Where earlier “X-Men” films, under the unfortunate-in-hindsight direction of Singer, often teemed with energy, talent and humor, “Dark Phoenix” limps along with a dark, self-serious tone and a central character who doesn’t have the presence to anchor a film.
Along with “Spider-Man,” the “X-Men” franchise proved early on that comic-book movies could mirror the massive success of its source material.
At its best, “X-Men’s” most noteworthy installments were a mixture of goofiness, well-orchestrated violence and acting talent that was working harder than it needed to. At its worst, it was slogs like this.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live