X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Dark Phoenix (film).pngDirector: Simon Kinberg
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Jessica Chastain, Kota Eberhardt, Andrew Stehlin, Brian d'Arcy James, Scott Shepherd, Hannah Anderson

Let's go back to the year 2000, where we'd overcome the silliness of Y2K, Pokémon was immensely popular, and 20th Century Fox were taking a gamble on releasing X-Men. Interest in the superhero genre had been killed just 3 years prior thanks to Batman and Robin, but 2000's release of the black leather wearing mutants helped to revitalise the genre. Seeing it reach its end nearly 2 decades later feels bittersweet, an ending thrust upon this film due to Disney's purchase of the well-known studio. Whether this franchise continued or not after this, the end result is a disappointing second try at an iconic comic-book story, which somehow does a worse job this time around.

During a rescue mission in space, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is hit by a cosmic force. She survives the event, making her more powerful in ways she struggles to control. As her powers become a risk to those around her, her teammates must decide whether she can be saved, or if it's best to end her.

Since 2011's X-Men: First Class, we've followed this iteration of the team led by James McAvoy's take on Professor Charles Xavier. Yes, there's been some team changes over the films, but key players have long been around, so it should be impactful to see them having to cope with a team-member of their own turning dark. Instead, the character stuff doesn't feel earned, as writer/director Simon Kinberg has taken too many lazy shortcuts, resulting in little work actually done to make us invested. Scott and Jean are now a fully fledged couple, and a picture of them on a bedside table depicts this better than the script, or the chemistry-free pair portraying them. Not helping matters is the unbalanced handling of the characters, are some are massively underutilised (here's looking at you, Storm), while others are entirely forgotten about for large stretches.

Credit is deserved to Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender, each of whom are clearly trying with the material, but can only do so much with so little. It's evident that Jennifer Lawrence has little invested in her role, while Tye Sheridan's performance can be downright laughable, right down to his line delivery. Spare a thought for Jessica Chastain, who's left to deliver exposition in a godawful platinum wig.

It's worth mentioning that interesting ideas are nestled within, as Charles' actions and ego are called into question. This sub-plot hints at an interesting take on the long-time character, but a botched handling ensures the result is less interesting in execution. The same can be said for attempted moments of female empowerment, which feel unearned. An observation of how the female heroes do most of the work, thus a more fitting name would be "X-Women", feels rushed and hollow. The third act also touches on the idea of emotions not making the heroine weak, and a key moment centred around one characters refusal to let others limit her potential, which was addressed much better just 3 months before in Captain Marvel.

As fight scenes are considered a staple of the superhero genre, it's a darn shame what's delivered here is such a chore to watch. There's little spark in these dull looking battles, set in darkness, where the supposed heroes cause a considerable amount of collateral damage. This is especially in regards to the train-set final act, where a variety of character powers utilised on-screen fails to inject excitement into the proceedings.

But the most disappointing thing of all, is how dated it all feels. In an era where Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the most popular franchises, and the weirder elements of Shazam! are openly embraced, it's disappointing to see a feel seemingly ashamed of the more cosmic aspects of the source material. It tries being "grounded" and "serious" to try and gain credibility, but ultimately leaves the film as a mess without a real identity to call it's own, bringing to mind 2015's Fant4stic. As a result, the antagonistic alien villains are hidden behind actors, who seem to be wondering what will become of their career after this. It's worth mentioning that Hans Zimmer's score is great, capturing the scope in a way the writing and direction fails to.

An emotionally empty feature that's been utterly mishandled, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is less of a swansong, and more of a turkey. This serves as a mercy killing for the long running franchise, and somehow makes one ready to reassess X-Men: The Last Stand.