Every Hero Has a Dark Side
In Dark Phoenix, the X-MEN face their most formidable and powerful foe: one of their own, Jean Grey. During a rescue mission in space, Jean is nearly killed when she is hit by a mysterious cosmic force. Once she returns home, this force not only makes her infinitely more powerful, but far more unstable. Wrestling with this entity inside her, Jean unleashes her powers in ways she can neither comprehend nor contain. With Jean spiralling out of control and hurting the ones she loves most, she begins to unravel the very fabric that holds the X-Men together. Now, with this family falling apart, they must find a way to unite - not only to save Jean's soul, but to save our very planet from aliens who wish to weaponize this force and rule the galaxy.
This is it. The final film in the X-Men saga. Well, at least we presume it is the last film for a while, and with these actors, thanks to the merger between 20th Century Fox and Disney. With that in mind, one would hope the film is amazing, to end the series on a high. That all being said, we know the film is covering the Phoenix storyline, which was covered already in X-Men III: The Last Stand (which I guess doesn't exist because of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff). Combine that with the poor test screenings and several reshoots, and well...suddenly expectations are much lower.
Having low expectations was the best way to go into the film. This the second time that we have had this Phoenix story done (let's ignore Jean Grey's Phoenix-looking outburst in X-Men: Apocalypse) and yet it feels like it was done even less justice than last time, despite everyone being pretty agreeable that X-Men III: The Last Stand was one of the weakest films of the X-Men franchise. Perhaps driven by the fact that Dark Phoenix has no real cohesive narrative; there isn't a storyline that is driving the story forward, nothing to build towards, and friends and foes are sending some incredibly mixed signals.
It ended up creating a film that lacked direction, and that makes time really drag, even though the film doesn't even make it to the 2-hour mark in terms of runtime. It is quite unfortunate as the first act is actually quite strong, and has the closest atmosphere to the X-Men films that we are used to. Instead, the film decides to have several different directions with different motivations and makes for an overall messy collaboration of story ideas, none of which getting any form of development. You'll be unsure whether anything of note actually happened.
The acting of the cast is on the whole well-done. Sophie Turner does a great job considering the camera is on her for the majority of screen-time. You do have to question some of the choices in make-up and general aesthetics for the character when you are spending so much time looking really closely at her face, but she does a superb job switching mood on a dime, as the inconsistent script requires.
The cinematography decisions are baffling at times with some odd framing and intense close-ups that fail to get the emotional weight that they need (and it's really needed with the amount of moping around that occurs by so many of the characters). It really feels dry and apathetic, which is the opposite of what you want. The action scenes are rather subdued for the most part until the final act where a great train scene occurs. Great compared to the rest of the film, that is, because the CGI and special effects are horrendous, and the camera shakes so much that it can be difficult to follow at times, but at least something finally happens!
What Dark Phoenix really needed was a simpler story. Jessica Chastain's performance with her band of antagonists was incredibly one-dimensional and could have easily been written out of the story. No actual writing required, just remove any part involving her and her cohorts, and the film makes just as much sense.
Nicholas Hoult, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender all had great performances, but the script itself just wasn't up to quality. This was the opportunity to end on a strong emotional point; to focus the film, and provide a concise emotionally-driven and well-developed story arc to a character. But we didn't get that. We got an excess of blue mutants, a cobbled mix of story ideas that went nowhere, and a series of character decisions that go against the fabric of what we have come to expect from the character from their past actions.
Spreading itself too thin, and not able to provide a suitable number of action set-pieces, Dark Phoenix is an ending that nobody expected...a mediocre one.
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