Review by J.T. Johnson
This is definitely the year for things to come to an end. “Avengers: Endgame” ended a 22 film saga for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Game of Thrones” had a finale that ended with… mixed results. Later this year, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” will end the Skywalker saga over at Lucasfilm.
Finally, though, “Dark Phoenix” concludes a film franchise from 20th Century Fox that has been around since the release of “X-Men” in 2000. Whether “Dark Phoenix” turned out good or bad, this truly is the end of an era. Okay, before anyone says anything, I know that we have “The New Mutants” coming next year and that film will technically end this franchise, but I’m not counting that one and you can’t make me!
It’s also worth noting that “Phoenix” wasn’t supposed to be an ending. In fact, the movie was to be the beginning of a new trilogy of X-Men films that would have followed the younger versions of our characters that we were introduced to in “X-Men: Apocalypse”. Then, Disney stepped in and bought Fox and this seems to have squashed the plans for the new trilogy as the X-Men will eventually be rebooted into the MCU.
So, the question remains. Does Fox’s X-Men franchise end with a big bang or a decidedly small whimper?
Unfortunately, I’m afraid it is the latter as the film is a pretty rushed borefest of a film. The movie, like the last two sequels to “X-Men: First Class”, jumps ahead another decade to 1992. All I have to say is that both James McAvoy’s Professor Xavier and Michael Fassbender’s Magneto have aged remarkably well considering that we’re now so close to where “X-Men” began in 2000.
In this film, a young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is taken in by Xavier after she accidentally unleashes her powers and kills her parents in a terrible accident. Soon, Xavier blocks certain aspects of the trauma from her memory and she finds a family with the X-Men. Speaking of which, the X-Men have become quite popular since they helped stop Apocalypse.
There is even an X-Phone (I’m not kidding) that Xavier can use to talk directly to the president. When a disaster involving a space shuttle puts astronauts at risk, the X-Men jump into action. While they successfully save the astronauts, Jean is hit with a solar flare that turns out to be a deadly cosmic force that enhances her powers and accesses her previous trauma.
This is where writer and director Simon Kinberg is trying to make up for the butchered job he did on the Dark Phoenix Saga with “X-Men: The Last Stand”. Yes, it is a cosmic force that inhabits Jean, turning her into the Dark Phoenix, but he still had to add the whole thing with the blocking of her past traumatic events in order to show us all that even Xavier can make mistakes. Now, this film is not the worst thing that has ever happened to cinema, but it is deeply flawed on just about every level.
The script, for example, just seems to go through the motions and has no real emotional weight. Even when a major death occurs, I didn’t feel the impact at all. Also, this doesn’t help the film’s cast of talented performers. McAvoy, Fassbender and Turner try their best with what they’re given and Fassbender specifically is the strongest performer here.
As far as the other X-Men are concerned, they try their best as well but their biggest problem is that they don’t really have much to do throughout the film. They’re just kind of there. The lackluster script is not the only problem the film suffers from, though.
Kinberg makes his directorial debut with this film and he only proves that he just wasn’t quite ready to take on a big tentpole movie such as this one. The movie just goes from one scene to another until, mercifully, the movie ends rather quickly.
Even the special-effects aren’t really that good. I mean, there are scenes where characters have to run really fast and do impossible jumps and sometimes they look like the old rubbery humans you would see in some of the early superhero films such as “Spider-Man” and “Blade II”. It sometimes looks that laughably bad.
Finally, there is my problem with the Dark Phoenix storyline being way too soon. First of all, it’s still a little too soon after “The Last Stand” for this story to be rehashed and it is especially too soon for these younger versions of the characters. Had this new trilogy been allowed to go forward, then you would want to build to the Dark Phoenix storyline and not jump too soon to such an epic storyline that definitely needs a lot more care and consideration from the writers.
Yes, a part of me is sad that this is the film that concludes Fox’s X-Men film series. Despite a few missteps here and there, I actually enjoyed these films for the most part. This series led directly to the superhero films that we’ve come to love over the years. It helped blaze a trail that made Hollywood take superheroes and comic books seriously and we’ve reaped the benefits ever since.
While I know that the X-Men are secure over at Marvel Studios now, I still wanted a far more proper sendoff for the long-running Fox series. Sadly, that was just not meant to be.