The first thing I noticed when I received my Multi Screen Edition of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, which hit store shelves on September 17, was that “X-Men” was three times larger than “Dark Phoenix” on the cover. Was this a marketing strategy to draw focus away from the poorly reviewed theatrical run? I certainly hope that works for them more than the movie worked for me.
As a fan of the X-Men franchise, I was looking forward to this film despite the poor reviews and wanted to like it so much that I watched it twice before sitting down to write. It’s not a bad movie, nor does it have bad performances or a bad story. It’s all fine in a "plain white toast for breakfast" sort of way. Sadly, that’s about as good as it gets.
An eight-year-old Jean Gray is still trying to understand and control her powers when she causes a car accident that kills her mother. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) shows up at the hospital to take Jean to his school. Here is where the problem starts. We saw X-Men: The Last Stand. We know what Jean is capable of. Even if we didn’t, we’ve not been given enough to care for this young girl or feel sorry for her. The sense we get from the start is that she is a bad seed. Writer/director Simon Kinberg needs for us to care about her, and we don’t.
So, we pick up a now grown, but no more likeable, Jean (Sophie Turner) as part of the X-Men who have been called by the President to go into space to rescue a shuttle crew. This scene is filled with energy, excitement, and more importantly; optimism. Give us movies where the X-Men are on call to come and save the world from everything! Where do I get in line!? Well, maybe not these X-Men, cuz many of them are tired. Try as they might, McAvoy, Michael Fassbender (Magneto), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven/Mystique) and others don’t want to be here anymore, and others should not have been cast in the first place. But I digress. So, the X-Men save the astronauts but not before Jean inhales what was thought to be a solar flare. The force inside her begins to turn her into the Phoenix as the mental walls previously constructed by Dr. Xavier begin to fall.
I almost failed to mention the aliens involved in the story. It didn’t seem necessary since they didn’t seem necessary in the movie. Ultimately, they serve as one of many distractions in this film. We are also distracted by the many unnecessary inconsistencies from previous films. Once you have watched the movie, reflect and you will realize that the story could have been told without the aliens and in conjunction with previous stories. I get that it’s an alternate timeline, but did it need to be? Of course, you may not need to wait until the movie is over to reflect on this, because you’ll need something to hold your attention during the film.
The film is not without action. As Jean, the X-Men, Magneto and his mutants, and the aliens all converge, there is indeed an action-packed battle royale, but the direction makes it extremely difficult to enjoy. The camera angles are too close, and the pace to frenetic to appreciate all that is going on. Kinberg should have reviewed Captain America: Civil War to see how to film a fight scene between many characters and how to inject comedy into a superhero movie.
In the end, we are left right back where we started, with some slight adjustments. The school is intact and there are young mutants ready to learn, serve, and fight. We need more movies.
What this outing does have going for it is great music. Provided by the legendary Hans Zimmer, the music does everything possible to fill this film with energy. As we become unfulfilled by the story, we can appreciate the score.
The bonus material is some of the most in-depth and enjoyable I’ve seen on a new release, which include an audio commentary for the film and optional one for the deleted scenes by Simon Kinberg and producer Hutch Parker, and the 80-minute Rise of the Phoenix: The Making of Dark Phoenix. Soooo, there’s that.
Recommendation: I really wish I could. If you didn’t pay to see it in the theatre, that’s a plus, but I can’t recommend paying to see it now. Wait for free TV. Won’t be a long wait.