Dark Phoenix

The Plot:

X-Men Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbs a strange and powerful energy during a rescue in outer-space. When her powers becomes uncontrollable, the X-Men must wrestle with the fact that one of their own has become a danger to humanity.

Kent's Take:

“Dark Phoenix” is the next installment in the limping X-Men franchise. The only thing electrifying here is Dark Phoenix and even she sputters.

The new class of X-Men are sassier, more emotional and certainly not lemmings. As the relaunch of the younger versions of the X-Men come into their own, the writers looked to modernize both the characters and their interactions.

Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) decision-making comes into question. Raven/Mystique is the team leader and is fed up with the poor decisions that men have been making. When her team saves a group of astronauts, she suggests that Xavier change the name to the X-Women because she’s “tired of always having to save the men around here.” Apparently team does have an “I” in the spelling.

This poorly written film presents a traditional storyline – one that we have seen countless times – but done better elsewhere.

Characters are inadequately developed with uninspired dialogue and shallow personalities. As their story unfolds, viewers care less and less about the stakes or characters.

The special effects are well done, but used in such pedestrian ways that one would think this film is from the mid 1990s.

Unfortunately, this film, unlike the Avenger movies, lacks a unifying theme. In fact, it touts just the opposite. Raven, Dark Phoenix and Jessica Chastain’s unnamed villain are the power players here, destroying or dismissing the men around them with their powers. There is no unifying theme of working together to unite and move forward.

I normally love powerful female characters in film, but the female leads in “Dark Phoenix” abuse their powers, making them as woeful as the men who do this. They even make Xavier a villain where he “learns his lesson” by the end of the film groveling at Dark Phoenix’s feet begging her to forgive him.

“Dark Phoenix” is destined to become a box office failure due to faulty writing and agitative themes. This film is an updated version of a superhero movie written more as a political statement rather than an entertaining emotional tale.

Lynn's Take:

It’s time to stop. Franchise fatigue is apparent. Over a 20-year span, Marvel’s X-Men comic book characters have been featured in 12 movies that range from god-awful to above-average. The regrettable afterthought “Dark Phoenix” is a mediocre, muddled mess using tired tropes, an uninspired alien species plotline, and some actors going through the motions presumably to pick up big paychecks.

Why should we care? In his directorial debut, Simon Kinberg, previously a producer and writer on many of the films including the unfortunate “The Last Stand,” pads this production with too much pop psychology mumbo-jumbo and ridiculous visual effects that stretch on endlessly, confusing us rather than making things clearer.

“Dark Phoenix” is the fourth prequel, following “First Class” (2011), “Days of Future Past” (2014) and the unwatchable “Apocalypse” (2016).

The second one was so superior, with a strong story set during the turbulent ‘60s. It intensified the group relationships and gave minor characters their ‘coming out,’ including Evan Peters as Quicksilver (the Pentagon scene is one for the ages).

What drew me into to the series, and particularly was gratifying in “Days of Future Past” was the love-hate relationship between Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Two of the best actors working today, they waste their time and reputations on this current claptrap.

Fassbender’s Magneto, off in his different philosophy commune, doesn’t show up until about two-thirds through, mainly grimaces during his scenes, and is there for the climactic showdown.

McAvoy is at the center of the story, owning up to Professor X’s mistakes on how he kept the truth away from Jean Grey and basically played God during the discovery of her powers. His character at least goes through a story arc. He’s the one who causes a great deal of the angst, when things aren’t blowing up.

Of the familiar characters, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult, once a couple in real life, actually lean in and give their Raven/Mystique and Hank/Beast some emotional resonance. Alexandra Shipp distinguishes herself as Storm and Kodi Smith-McPhee is fine as Nightcrawler, as is Tye Sheridan as Scott/Cyclops, Phoenix’s boyfriend. Evan Peters is merely a snarky footnote as Quicksilver.

The same can be said for Sophie Turner as Jean Grey. She commits to all the chaos – if it’s a bit predictable and rote.

It’s not their fault they were contractually saddled with a dud. They’ll all rebound but the franchise, I feel, is irreparably damaged. It’s not enough to produce another sequel – we need fresh, new or interesting to get us into the theater.  After the dreadful “Apocalypse,” the series has lost its mojo. Hugh Jackman stayed away as Wolverine and his absence is sorely felt. After the superior “Logan,” he felt there was no need for a reappearance.

Faring the worst, though, is Jessica Chastain. She was added as the alien leader, Vuk, who takes over a human body and infiltrates the government to get her hands-on Dark Phoenix. Did we need this character? Looking like a robotic Barbie Doll, this is one of the weakest subplots in franchise history.

In theory, saving friends and being united against evil is a noble plot, but the relentless CGI-crafted explosions and a finale that wastes firepower for exposition, is no way to make this boring conclusion engaging. Although, the train fight is a good one.

Superheroes will diminish without better material.