WARNING: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.
So I saw Dark Phoenix on Wednesday.
I did not hate it. I had a good time at parts. But for the most part, my head was in my hands. There will be many negatives in the review that follows, but understand that when we get to the positive, it is a pretty big one.
Before I move along, I think it’s worth mentioning that this movie was written by Simon Kinberg, who wrote the brilliant Days Of Future Past. However, he did not write Logan, First Class, Deadpool, or Deadpool 2. And he also wrote X3: The Last Stand (uuuh……) and Apocalypse (Yikes!!!).
Keeping the above in mind makes it easier to understand why the movie ended up the way it did. If you leave the movie scratching your head and wondering why it felt, to an extent, like a do-over of The Last Stand, your answer is right there: it should be no surprise why elements that were introduced by that movie are carried forward here, even as the film tries to incorporate more elements from the original Phoenix saga. Elements such as Jean’s repressed family history, the return to the family house and its’ relevance to the plot as the location for a major conflict, the tug-of-war over Jean between her two mentors, the inadvertent destruction of a beloved mentor figure, and so forth.
Clearly, someone doesn’t agree that his ideas were a problem the first time around….and in my opinion, this is where the movie’s biggest problems originate.
Dark Phoenix attempts to re-tell the story that was told in X3: The Last Stand, in the alternate world of X-Men:First Class. The skeleton of the story is similar, but it makes a few key adjustments in order to move things closer to the comicbook arc that inspired it in the first place. An alien race is introduced, and the Phoenix Force is recast as a cosmic entity and not the manifestation of Jean’s repressed self.
It’s very clear that someone worked very hard to keep the plot tight. And it shows: the movie constantly course corrects as it moves along, trying to keep potential runaway story threads from going haywire. A few rough edges do remain, such as the fact that the (amazing) train sequence was even allowed to happen at all, but the true issues with the movie are those that come from the fact that this is clearly two competing movies fighting for dominance.
This “competition” manifests in interesting ways. For instance, why does the head alien bizarrely confess her plans to Xavier during the first “hug battle” scene? (Perhaps because Xavier himself is completely out of the loop regarding a potential alien invasion up to that point) Why does the head alien even bother to send her soldiers after the train when she could literally just walk in and take everyone out, before the X-men and Jean are even loaded onto it? Why do we waste so much time on Jean’s repressed childhood and her relationship with her father when it has nothing to do with the Phoenix force itself? In the end, if Jean’s repressed childhood only serves one purpose: which is to turn her into a lunatic once the Phoenix force finds her- what is the meaning of the bizarre punchline at the end of the movie where a discussion about emotions comes completely out of nowhere?
So unfortunately, the movie’s plot, while kept as tight as it could be, didn’t achieve much in the way of creating weight for the action scenes. Speaking of which, It took a long time to get going with said action, but when it started it was fast, bloody and extremely violent.
I’m going to give this movie all the kudos for it’s action scenes right here. This movie had incredible action. In fact, it’s almost surprising how good it is. It’s cut fast, characters do smart things, powers are combined rapidly, and the X-men are incredibly competent and skillful. Their opponents rise to the challenge, and Magneto absolutely does not disappoint. The special effects are brilliant, and the characters fight with verve and emotion. It almost feels like another movie when the action begins! Which is why, unfortunately, the fact that the plot fails to establish any sort of stakes for the action hurts so much more. This alone wouldn’t have been too much of a problem if the movie didn’t also have problems with dialogue.
My God was the dialogue terrible. It was cringeworthy nonsense that for the most part sounded like plot-advancing filler… no heart or conversation to it, just people repeating cliche’d phrases that in many cases didn’t really fit in context.
I mean for fucks sake “when I lose control, bad things happen” or “you hurt people, how did you stop?” Jesus It’s heartbreaking to see some amazing actors having to struggle through some of the worst dialogue known to comic book movies…. I really felt for J-Law as she phoned in a bizarre scene where she suggested that the X-men should be called the X-women.
Terrible dialogue was combined with bizarre departures from character such as Cyclops dropping random F-bombs, the X-men and magneto acting like football hooligans and yobs on the streets, itching for a fight, Beast going for murderous revenge when not necessary and suddenly changing his mind, and other bizarre flip-flops on the parts of Xavier and Magneto as the plot demanded it.
It was also quite bizarre the way the population went from treating the X-Men like heroes to vilifying them in such a short time, especially given the recent history of this particular universe, with apocalypse and whatnot…
And this brings me to the single largest problem with the movie: Sophie Turner.
She. is. Incredibly. Miscast. And to explain how horrifically miscast she is would take another article. She is beyond terrible in the role, and brings the movie down around herself.
In the end? It was not garbage. It was not terrible. But it struggled to have a point to exist. And while the action was entertaining, the dark and somber nature of the movie meant that the weight the action needed, wasn’t really there. It was fast, it was visceral, but the only real stakes were a creeping fear that X-Men might die for no reason. (Which, to be fair, worked for me the first time around) Once you watch the movie once and know who lives and who dies, I doubt the lack of additional stakes will warrant a re-watch.
Final score: Above Mediocre. Will watch it again once, then maybe fast-forward it on home video to the excellent action sequences.