REVIEW: X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Spoiler Free)

To quote Wolverine, what an egg sucking piece of gutter trash.

An outer space rescue mission goes awry for the X-Men when telekinetic mutant, Jean Grey, absorbs a deadly solar flare giving her immense strength but also unbottled and unstable rage.

Oh, the X-Men… what do I say about the X-Men?

Since the birth of the 21st century, in the year 2000, the X-Men have been a large presence in pop culture. During the 90s the only two superhero franchises people knew or cared about, DC’s Superman and DC’s Batman, were falling far out of favour. The world needed a new superhero franchise – something different, something unique. So, enter Bryan Singer’s X-Men. Building off the success of the characters in their 90s animated television show, the X-Men movies altered the cinematic superhero game almost entirely. Suddenly, DC were not the only big comic book players at the movies; Marvel had become a name. In that brief window of time, where Superman and Batman were dead in the water, X-Men managed to usher in a new wave of success for Marvel with movies for characters like Spider-Man, Hulk, Daredevil, Punisher, Ghost Rider, Blade (yeah, I know the first one came out before the original X-Men, but Blade II was arguably the best one) and, eventually, Iron Man. In many ways, if it were not for the original X-Men, Marvel would not be at the place they are today. Although, as Marvel have moved on to bigger and better things, it would seem the X-Men franchise has gone down… well… some other path.

To judge what is seemingly the final X-Men film to be released under 20th Century Fox’s incarnation of the cinematic X-Men, I feel you guys need to understand where I am coming from when I explain what I truly thought about Dark Phoenix. So here’s a quick recap of my opinions on the X-Men franchise, minus the Wolverine trilogy and the Deadpool movies, being as though they all seem to exist in their own bubble.

So, you know my thoughts on 2000’s X-Men already; a really solid film that’s made even better by its significance as the kick-starter of this current era of superhero fandom. X2, at the time, set the bar for superhero movies in general, delivering a highly-entertaining sequel to an already well-established universe. X-Men: The Last Stand contained some good ideas, but, at the end of the day, was kind of trash. X-Men: First Class was a breath of fresh air, softly rebooting the franchise in a new setting with a new cast. X-Men: Days of Future Past was easily the best of the franchise by far, delivering an epic-scaled, universe altering extravaganza, which honestly could not have been topped… but that’s not the reason its sequel, X-Men Apocalypse then sucked. Apocalypse was a highly generic, uninteresting mess that failed in being something “unique” enough to be appreciated. In saying that though, I would watch Apocalypse 100 more times then watch Dark Phoenix ever again.

DarkPhoenixJean.0
(20th Century Fox 2019)

I am baffled. I am shocked. I am almost lost for words of how atrocious Dark Phoenix was. I honestly think I have lost brain cells watching it. There’s just so much I want to say about this movie, I genuinely do not know where to start… seriously I cannot pick where I want to officially begin this review.

To try and grasp my feelings concerning Dark Phoenix I tried to compare it, various times, to other movies within a similar vein of it. Now, I know that’s not always fair to compare movies, since everything should have a chance to stand on its own… but I have found myself at my wit’s end with Dark Phoenix. I tried to compare it to The Last Stand which adapted the same exact comic book story featuring Jean Grey’s development into the Dark Phoenix… but both movies are somehow so different whilst being so similar. I tried comparing it to Apocalypse, the only other post-Days of Future Past movie featuring the rebooted X-Men… but Apocalypse was made by a “filmmaker”, unlike Dark Phoenix. I tried comparing it to Avengers: Endgame as a finale movie… but Endgame was a planned finale whilst Dark Phoenix was a makeshift ending. So… I had only one place left to turn to… and trust me, it wasn’t pretty.

Before Disney bought 20th Century Fox a few months back, Fox was known for owning two significant Marvel franchises: the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. You already know my thoughts on the X-Men, so lets discuss the latter. In 2015, Fox released Fant4stic – one of the most boring, drab, tiring superhero movies ever made. Now, I’m not trying to make any accusations, but the first and only movie I could think of when leaving the cinema for Fox’s Dark Phoenix was Fox’s Fant4stic… by the way, I know that name sounds ridiculous, but the studio marketed it like that, so its their fault for looking like idiots.

Now, Fant4stic was definitely worse than Dark Phoenix, but the fact the two movies came to mind simultaneously for me was no mistake. Dark Phoenix was bad for the same reason Fant4stic was bad: they were both offensively boring. Dark Phoenix, like Fant4stic, was an anomaly of horrendousness. It left me questioning things like how the movie got made, how it could have possibly been given the approval stamp and how, in the world, it managed to be the biggest “nothing” of a movie in existence. I just could not comprehend the train wreck that I sat through for two hours and, yet, it felt like no other experience I had felt before with a movie.

I’m not angry – I’m not even disappointed – I’m just confused. Shocked. I don’t even know if I could describe the movie I saw as a “movie”. It just wasn’t a movie. Usually, a “movie” follows a plot, builds in escalation and eventually climaxes. Dark Phoenix had a paper thin plot, made worse by the fact it built up to nothing and never really climaxed… or at least not in the traditional sense. Dark Phoenix literally just existed. It started and then it ended. I wanted to be able to laugh at how bad this movie was, but I couldn’t even do that.

Very recently, I called Aladdin my least favourite film of 2019, outlining its bombastic attitude in being awful. Not even a month later and I cannot believe I am saying this, but: I preferred Aladdin. At least, Aladdin was terrible to the extent it was funny, Dark Phoenix wasn’t even that. Aladdin was like watching a grown man falling over and hurting himself on Funniest Home Videos (funny, right?), but then Dark Phoenix was like a little boy falling over and smacking his head on Funniest Home Videos (not as funny, yeah?).

Everything that could have fell flat, fell flat immensely in Dark Phoenix. So lets get into the nit-and-gritty.

Its hard to pinpoint what part of this movie is most relevant to start ranting about, but even that is too difficult considering how much every element of this movie highly effects another element.

Lets start with a name: Simon Kinberg.

Long-time screenwriter for the X-Men movies, Simon Kinberg’s writing credits may genuinely surprise you. Kinberg wrote the original Dark Phoenix adaptation, The Last Stand; he also wrote Days of Future Past and Apocalypse. Funnily enough, his credits extended to, lo and behold, Fant4stic. Having also written Dark Phoenix, his second attempt at the comic storyline, Kinberg also utilised this movie as a jumping off point for his directorial career… yes, Dark Phoenix was a product of a first time director – and it showed.

Now Bryan Singer has never exactly had much of a “style”, per say, when he constructed X-MenX2Days of Future Past and Apocalypse as neither did Brett Ratner with The Last Stand or Matthew Vaughn with First Class, so generally the X-Men franchise has continued with a consistent visual through line. Dark Phoenix never necessarily drifted from that consistent style as it, in fact, stayed as faithful as possible to the X-Men “look”. But that’s the thing: this movie played it so safe. I recognise this may have been a directorial debut, but (well, first off why was the final X-Men movie a directorial debut?!), most importantly, Dark Phoenix was meant to bring a cosmic flare to the X-Men movies.

This movie should have been crazy with its visuals. Just look at what Marvel have done with their space-based movies and compare it to how Dark Phoenix treated it’s own visual depiction of cosmic energies and entities. Nothing in this movie was at all visually exciting. The direction in general was just so bland, but I don’t know if I could even blame Kinberg. He must be a fan of the X-Men considering the amount of work he has put into the franchise. So of course getting the chance to not only direct one of the movies but also, in doing so, attempt to take a second shot at a concept he initially f***** up would have been an opportunity Kinberg could not have overlooked. But again, direction is not all about visuals per say, its also about structure and pacing… and I can definitely blame Kinberg for that.

Dark Phoenix was edited by Lee Smith, whom, if you don’t know that name, edited a large majority of Christopher Nolan’s filmography, with a special focus on the brilliantly cut Dunkirk. So I don’t know what happened per say, but Dark Phoenix was one of the most poorly edited films I have seen in 2019. I do not necessarily think the editing was by fault of Smith though as the material he seemingly was given to cut all appeared genuinely pretty awful. The job of the director and his crew should be to film enough salvageable material for the editor to at least make something entertaining out of later. But with Dark Phoenix there was almost literally no material to be neatly woven together in the first place.

Every scene in Dark Phoenix was insanely flat. You may think characters were conversing and the story was moving, but everything in Dark Phoenix felt like a terrible allusion that realistically hid the truth that every scene led nowhere and characters may as well have spoken gibberish. Character arcs and story plots were introduced but then forgotten about immediately. The script was a mashing of all these different ideas – some good, some bad and some downright confusing – and none of them landed, or at least none of them worked in unison to give Dark Phoenix an overall narrative… or even a suitable pacing. Between a lack of story structure and awfully paced sequences, Dark Phoenix was a movie that felt like it literally was leading up to nothing. A movie should work like a song – building up and building up till it reaches a satisfying crescendo, where everything concerning the plot and characters tie in neatly at a climax… but Dark Phoenix didn’t even reach said climax.

When every scene in your movie is shot in the same flat tone with no spiking in conflict or action pushing the story forwards, your film will always feel like its not going anywhere. Dark Phoenix, from a technical standpoint, stayed tonally the same in every scene; so what the audience was left with were action sequences that appeared as eventful as scenes of dialogue and vice versa. And its not just how a film is “made” but also how the film is written. Your film has to adhere to a certain structure; it has to move through certain beats so that by the last act, you know you’re at the final confrontation. Meanwhile, Dark Phoenix had no acts; this movie did not understand structure and, as a result, the final twenty minutes, which would be called “the final act” in any other movie, felt like just another scene. So you could imagine my shock when the movie just abruptly ended, concluding on the blandest note of all.

In saying that, also, here’s a quick interlude discussing the score for Dark Phoenix. I don’t know how this was composed by Hans Zimmer, but the music for Dark Phoenix was horrible. A film’s score does a lot to tell a story but I guess considering Dark Phoenix didn’t really have much of a story, there was little for Zimmer to compose. Long story short, the score was as flat as every scene in the movie… perhaps making the film even flatter.

Let’s try and discuss positives, because I don’t like being overly negative all the time. Truth is, Dark Phoenix is too much of an easy target for film critics to tear to shreds. This movie suffered reshoots galore, went through several rewrites and was developed at a time the studio producing it was in the midst of being bought out. The movie was originally meant for release in March 2018, until it was pushed back to November 2018 and then February 2019 and now finally June 2019. I hate to say it, but I could not see a world in which Dark Phoenix could have possibly worked as a “good” movie. Everything bad that could have happened to its production, happened.

But anyway, some positives…

Some of the visual effects were ok. I liked the look of Jean Grey as the Phoenix with the glowing veins and flowing hair. Sophie Turner, in general, seemingly performed a good enough attempt with the material she had. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are hard to dislike, even in their worst movies (but Dark Phoenix was pushing it). And, you know what, I didn’t hate Nicholas Hault’s portrayal of Beast in this movie either. As for characters in general though… everyone was written terribly.

I don’t understand how you could have screwed up so much with writing a couple of simple character arcs. In realistic terms, all Dark Phoenix was, was Fox’s attempt at making Captain America: Civil War out of the X-Men characters, but having the story told through the perspective of Scarlet Witch as opposed to Steve Rogers or Tony Stark. So all the script had to do was, in a roundabouts way, copy the perfect character models laid out by Civil War and build off that to create the confrontation this movie attempted to build. But again, Dark Phoenix couldn’t even do that.

There are reasons why the characters in Civil War choose the sides they do and doublecross the people they feel are necessary to, but Dark Phoenix almost entirely said “to hell with that”. The only characters who started an arc in this movie and initially appeared somewhat interesting were the egotistical Professor X, the distraught Beast and the confused Jean Grey. Although, given time, their characters arcs were forgotten in favour for… a fight sequence, I guess. In saying that though, at least there were attempts at their characters. Cyclops existed purely to look and sound like an idiot whilst shouting “Jean!” constantly. Storm almost had an ounce of character given to her, but then the filmmakers must have thought, “nah, lets not make this too complicated”. Nightcrawler was literally a nobody till the end of the movie where a pivotal scene involving the character attempted to give him growth but ultimately made him look like a spud. Quicksilver may as well have not been in this movie. Mystique was just an arrogant presence until she was moulded into a plot device. And Magneto… I don’t know, I guess the filmmakers thought, “its an X-Men movie, so we’re going to use Magneto, even though if we didn’t use him, it wouldn’t change the plot whatsoever”. By the way, if my calculations are correct, Professor X, Magneto, Mystique and Beast should all be in their 60s by now… what the f***.

Then there’s Jessica Chastain’s villain who’s name… I don’t even remember. Why she was needed for this movie, I don’t know, but she was the most useless, lifeless, dull villain ever to feature in an X-Men movie. Even Apocalypse posed a sense of threat, whilst Jessica Chastain was just some weird alien albino who walked around and twisted people in the stomach. Sounds ridiculous, right? BECAUSE IT IS!

Ridiculous. That’s the word for Dark Phoenix. The idea to reboot The Last Stand with the guy who wrote said movie was ridiculous. The idea to set these movies ten years apart from one another so that all of them are so disconnected in terms of character relationships was ridiculous. The idea that this was the final film in a franchise which survived for two decades on mostly good movies is ridiculous. Dark Phoenix was a ridiculous excuse for a movie…

… and it was so subtle at it too. Dark Phoenix was terrible in such slight ways that you may watch this movie with a nagging sensation that something about it felt off but you cannot quite pinpoint what exactly it was. Well, I’m here to tell you it was everything – everything was off about Dark Phoenix.

But whatever. Fact of the matter is, I will never have to review one of these movies again. It’s sad, yes, in much respects that the once mighty X-Men franchise ends here at the most anti-climatic drag of a project, but that’s the way it goes I guess. You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain… or just an afterthought.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix, without a doubt, in my mind belongs in the… Theatre of DOOM

 

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