‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ movie review

The final entry in Fox's X-Men film series is boring, shallow and fails its characters miserably

Director: Simon Kinberg
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain
Score: 2/5 stars

“The more things change, the more they stay the same” is perhaps a phrase that can accurately be applied to the 'X-Men' films. The franchise has stumbled over the years, trying to find solid footing, only to lose it not very long after. 'Dark Phoenix', unfortunately, suffers from the same issue – having to create a convincing reason for the existence of the Phoenix Force while tackling the fact that it is a prequel.

The rebooted 'X-Men' prequels took us through the Cold War and the US-Soviet Cuban drama, a dystopian future and an alternate version of the 70s, while 'Apocalypse', the most forgettable entry, was just sort of there, fitting snugly into the 80s and doing absolutely nothing of consequence, all in pursuit of eventually, somehow blending into Bryan Singer’s 2000 original. 'Dark Phoenix' takes us into the 90s, in a vain effort to continue the franchise – given that Disney now owns the property and likely any film made will end up getting wiped out for a fresh slate.

That is not to say it’s not a competently made film. Unlike 'Apocalypse', which felt like a series of events put together haphazardly, 'Dark Phoenix' at least seems to have direction by way of focusing on Jean Grey’s existential crisis and how it affects everyone around her.

It all starts during Jean’s childhood when she unwittingly causes an accident, ballooning directly into a rescue attempt in space, where she is hit by the Phoenix Force, becoming a savagely powerful individual who potentially can destroy entire planets. The greatest success and failing of 'Dark Phoenix' are in its focus on Jean Grey, who is forced to contend with her newfound power while dealing with the idea that the man who gave her a family may not have been as innocuous as she thought. Xavier is...complicated in this film to say the least. He’s more closed, more obscure and his ego is on full display even if he doesn’t want to admit it – even fictional characters are not immune to being close to powerful people, it would seem.

The film fails greatly at building a character for Jean, drowning her in rivers of CGI slugfests with no real substance or character nuances that were at least somewhat present in earlier entries. It feels like it’s going for the “dark and gritty” route but it never truly embraces it, even with shock factor elements and with a solid, head-turning final battle worthy at least of recognition for its technical brilliance.

The characters are thoroughly wasted in the film, with the greatest crime being committed against Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, who went from mutant radical to some kind of a farmer and doesn’t command a shred of the presence he had in the past. Never mind Jessica Chastain’s Vuk, who comic book fans will recognise as the alien D’Bari for but a brief moment during the character’s quest for...revenge? Restoration? The movie never makes an effort to make Vuk’s motives relatable, despite the intent being very much so. The only other character in the film to get any real development is Hank, which is also washed out in ludicrous CGI battles.

There is no real reason for 'Dark Phoenix' to exist. It’s mired in reshoots that seem to have shifted things around a lot, important revelations in the plot are glossed over with cheap mind tricks and mixed with excessive reliance on CGI over characters. The film feels hollow altogether at the close.

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