Fox’s X-Men franchise flames out with Dark Phoenix, a formulaic and forgettable superhero entry that contributes hardly anything unique to an already overpopulated genre.
Sometime after the excellent Days of Future Past in 2014, this series inexplicably took a turn towards darker themes and a more moody atmosphere, evidenced by the joyless bore that was 2016’s Apocalypse and carried through in this latest chapter.
Put simply, these X-Men films just aren’t as fun as they should be. This lifeless addition drives home the point that this series needs a new spark in order to keep things going.
The story this time is focused on the telekinetic mutant Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), who is taken in at a young age by Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) after her powers result in the accidental death of her parents.
Years later, while working on a space mission with her X-Men crew, Jean absorbs a mass of dark energy in order to save members of the Endeavour space shuttle. After coming in contact with the mysterious force, her powers continue to grow wildly out of her control and it’s up to the rest of the X-Men, including Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), to set things right.
This isn’t writer/director Simon Kinberg’s first crack at adapting the lauded comic book series “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” as he was previously a co-writer for 2006’s The Last Stand. While this second attempt does try to bring more dimension to Jean Grey’s character and her potentially interesting story, there just isn’t enough on the page to make her transition into Dark Phoenix compelling. The character development is entirely too rushed across the board but especially so for Jean Grey, who was barely introduced in Apocalypse and is now the focal point for this massively abridged version of her story.
As the film centers around an underwritten female protagonist discovering herself while also on the run from shape-shifting aliens, the comparisons between Dark Phoenix and the recently released Captain Marvel are inevitable. It’s even rumored that the entire third act of the former was re-shot to avoid similarities with the latter.
The biggest distinction between the two is that Marvel was able to inject some levity into its storyline while Phoenix couldn’t possibly take itself more seriously. Neither film features particularly captivating action sequences, although the space mission scene from Phoenix succeeds mainly on the chemistry between the stellar cast.
Despite the shaky script, most of the actors do their level best to make this story work. Turner does a fine job in a challenging lead role that requires a large range of emotion and McAvoy continues to fill out his Xavier character nicely. While he’s always been the strongest part of the ensemble in these “new” X-Men films, Fassbender feels especially overqualified this time around as Magneto’s role in the movie is more perfunctory than ever.
Now that Fox is done with this franchise following their acquisition from Disney, we can at least hold out hope that a better X-Men series will rise from the ashes.
Coming to theaters this weekend
Men in Black: International, starring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, reboots the sci-fi comedy franchise with two new MIB agents who are sent to London to investigate alien attacks.
Shaft, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Jessie T. Usher, brings a third generation to the Shaft series as an FBI agent turns to his father and grandfather for help on a new case.
Opening at Cinema Center is The Souvenir, a new romantic drama from A24 about a young film student who becomes romantically involved with a complicated and untrustworthy man.