A Phoenix That Doesn’t Rise From The Ashes
Next to Spiderman, the X-Men has always been one of my favourite superheroes. The interesting internal conflicts, the tumultuous relationship the mutants have with the humans and the epic sagas spanning multiple comic issues had me instantly hooked. Way back in 2000, Fox begun what would later go down as one of the most uneven rollercoaster rides in superhero saga history. While the Marvel universe flourished, the X-Men dipped and peaked, delivering a myriad of different films of varying quality. With the reigns handed over to Marvel at the end of this film, Dark Phoenix bows out with an indifferent roar; a perfectly mediocre but utterly forgettable action superhero flick.
The story takes the core idea of the Dark Phoenix storyline in the comics and wraps as many of our superhero brethren met in the previous films into this 1 hour 45 minute flick. In doing so, Dark Phoenix abandons continuity and throws out work from the previous films in favour of a stand-alone story that doesn’t work on its own and doesn’t make logical sense in a series of films.
After a brief prologue showing Jean Grey’s childhood, we cut back to present day where an early rescue mission to save a group of astronauts sees Jean Grey, Mystique and a handful of other X-Men donning their outfits and flying the Blackbird out into space to save the day. After some ingenuity, Xavier calls on Jean to use her powers and save the day. She does the job although a strange, alien mass is absorbed into her body, causing the shackles to come off the mental restraints Xavier put around her as a child.
From here, the story sees Jean descend into angered rage as she becomes consumed by the pain of her past, while the film itself begins adopting all the usual superhero tropes you’d expect as the X-Men regroup, fight off the Brotherhood Of Mutants and try to stop Jean before it’s too late. This all comes to a head during the film’s climactic finale which, despite the goofy ending and emotionless resolution, manages to showcase a pretty impressive action blockbuster on-board a speeding train.
Dark Phoenix is a really tricky film to nail down because it does has a few redeeming features. Most of the action is very good and there’s a slick use of visual effects to give everything a suitable kick when the fighting does pick up. Han Zimmer’s score is brilliant too, managing to inject the right amount of excitement into these set pieces that certainly make good on the $200 million investment the film reportedly cost to make. If you’re looking for an early Summer blockbuster to switch off and admire the action in – this is the film for you.
Unfortunately, Dark Phoenix stumbles with almost every other part of its production. The acting feels stifled and wooden at times; even the wonderful James McAvoy feels like he’s dialed it in here. The dialogue feels bloated, ham-fisted and at times lacking any sort of subtlety or fluidity, with one character joking early on “You might as well call it The X-Women,”. The pacing feels uneven because of the script issues, making the quiet moments feel oddly jarring thanks to the awkwardly wooden acting and these times will have you itching for the action to pick back up again.
To me at least, X-Men has always worked best when the struggle between man and mutant is at the central core of the story, with a lot of the anger and xenophobia mirroring that seen in our own world. Here though, Dark Phoenix shows no consequences, no explanation to the aliens that show up nor any sort of urgency to deliver anything beyond some good looking action.
For a series that’s always been about the internal character struggles and thought provoking, grounded ideas reflecting social inequality and racism, Dark Phoenix loses what made the series so endearing to begin with. Yes it’s pretty to look at, yes it has great fighting but then again so did The Hobbit films – yet no-one remembers them. Unfortunately that feels like the fate for this final X-Men film developed by Fox. Dark Phoenix is a middling, emotionless film, one that’s neither good enough to remember nor bad enough to join hands with X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Dark Phoenix is one phoenix that won’t rise from the ashes any time soon.