REVIEW: ‘Dark Phoenix’ shows a franchise burnout for the ‘X-Men’

Back in 2006, I, like many others, were largely disappointed with “X-Men: The Last Stand,” the supposed finale of the series to that point. Amazingly, “Dark Phoenix” has upstaged “Last Stand,” proving to be a finale even worse.

“Phoenix” takes place a few years after the events of “X-Men: Apocalypse.” Following the defeat of Apocalypse, the X-Men have become a sort of emergency response team and because of their helpful actions, mutants are better respected.

However, trouble begins forming after the team’s latest mission, where Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is hit by some sort of energy during an attempt to save a space shuttle crew. It turns out the energy is a legendary power that makes Jean’s powers more unstable and brings out an aggressive side of her personality. Additionally, an alien force led by the character Vuk (Jessica Chastain) is after the power.

For the grand climax of the existing “X-Men” franchise, it’s surprising how woefully misguided and inept “Dark Phoenix” is. First and foremost, the movie seems to flop when it comes to internal consistency. The prime example is where Jean receives the Phoenix powers during the mission, despite her showing these powers in “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

Where “Phoenix” really stumbles, though, is its meandering style of story-telling. The movie has a primary antagonist with the alien force, along with the drama between Jean and the X-Men. However, these plot elements just feel loose and unconnected, where character actions are taken to get from point A to point B, rather than creating a cohesive, satisfying arc.

On top of its story issues, “Phoenix” features rather odd character decisions and questionable choices by the writers. The latter includes character deaths and random power changes, such as Beast going back to a human look at will.

Combined with a rather convoluted plot, these issues make “Dark Phoenix” a real mess. Making the matter even messier is how big of a wrench this movie throws into the timeline, considering this is still supposed to take place before the original “X-Men” trilogy, at least somewhat.

It also doesn’t help that the acting is largely forgettable, with no one here really standing out. Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender almost come across as they don’t want to be there anymore, while Turner doesn’t get nearly enough good scenes to establish her characters’ trauma over the Phoenix powers.

The worst offenders, though, are Chastain and the other aliens, who appear to have come down with a nasty strain of blandinitis. They’re so dull and uninteresting, which really doesn’t help out the film’s third act.

The third act, in fairness, does provide some solid moments of entertainment, especially when Magneto gets to mix his metal controlling abilities with martial arts. But compared to what audiences have experienced in the past few years from super hero pictures, it’s mostly average.

As previously stated, “X-Men: The Last Stand” is actually, arguably, a better film than “Dark Phoenix,” which is really saying something. This film is, unfortunately, a poor bookend for the franchise. 1.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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