A superficial disappointment with nothing fresh to say in X-Men – Dark Phoenix

The latest X-Men film risks short-circuiting thanks to its own overabundance of special effects. The many scenes of characters being consume by fireballs or crumbling to dust or being hurled backwards by the lightning-like force in the X-Men’s fingertips become increasingly dreary.

This is a young adult drama as much as it is a sci-fi film. But doesn’t have anything very fresh to say about the trauma of adolescence as experience by mutant superheroes.

Jean Grey (Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner) is the troubled, flame-haired heroine.

Jean (aka Dark Phoenix) is first seen as a child in a flashback in 1975, siting in the back of her parents’ car. Her telekinetic powers cause the radio to jump channels and end up provoking one of those slow motion crashes. That in which the shattere glass falls like confetti on the passengers’ heads as the vehicle performs somersaults.

With her special powers, it is only to be expect that Jean (play as a child by Summer Fontana) will soon be enroll in the Hogwarts-like school for gifted youngsters run by the wheelchair-bound Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy). No sooner is she settled here than we are whisked forward in time to 1992. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) is leading a crew of young daredevils on a mission to rescue some astronauts.

During the trip, Jean is engulfed in the middle of a solar flare.

This both enhances her powers and gives her a cosmic case of personality disorder. She becomes “all desire, all rage and all pain” and can no longer contain her emotions. She has father issues, her hormones are running wild and she is about to evolve into the “greatest force in the galaxy”.

Raven doesn’t like the way that Charles is sucking up to the political establishment, going for dinners with the president even as he puts the lives of the X-Men at risk. Charles explains that by getting the X-Men accepted as heroes. He is overturning the suspicion that many of the humans still feel towards these mutants in their midst.

Writer-director Kinberg tries to address the gender imbalance implicit in the title of the film.

This may be an X-Men story but the women (as Raven is quickest to point out) are invariably doing the rescuing. There are also veiled references to President Trump’s immigration policies. When security is threatened, the politicians waste no time at all in setting up mutant internment centres.

Just before Team Magneto and Team Professor X duke it out in the streets of New York. Both factions pursuing the Phoenix-empowered Jean Grey, Xavier begs his old friend to call off the hunt. Fighting won’t solve anything. Blood doesn’t need to be spilled. Mutants need to come together, for the future’s sake. It’s a classic X-Men movie reprise, to which Magneto delivers a frank response.

There’s always a speech … and nobody cares.

He said it, not me.

Dark Phoenix is yet another speech.

It’s less a disaster, as word of reshoots and calendar-hopping signaled to devotees, than a let down. Pegged in the post-Avengers: Endgame weeks as the “final battle” of 20th Century Fox’s X-men franchise. The film brings Xavier and his band of crime-fighting mutants to their bleakest moment, dealing with trauma inflicted on one of their own by one of their own.

Secrets are unraveled, foes become allies in showdowns between friends. And a series known in the last decade for colorful, comic book camp takes a psychological turn that would shatter expectations. If the characters contained even an ounce of depth beyond their genes. In the end, a story about treating “others” as people can’t find a human element for its core characters, 12 movies in.

From writer-director Simon Kinberg (who takes another crack at the Phoenix saga after adapting it for 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand)

Dark Phoenix barely acknowledges the existence of X-Men: Apocalypse as it jumps ahead to the year 1992. A time when mutants and the powerless are living in harmony and the X-Men are celebrated as heroes. So much so that when a nasty space cloud threatens NASA’s Endeavor mission, the president himself rings Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) on the Oval Office X-Phone to request the team’s assistance. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) questions the professor’s judgment: At what point is launching a bunch of twenty-somethings into space child endangerment? Xavier brushes off the condescension: Helping the un-mutated is the only way to find acceptance.

Dark Phoenix tugs at these existential questions in a way the movies haven’t since First Class. And in the space-set rescue mission that kicks off the movie, mines true spectacle from the inquisition. Mystique knows this is wrong, but she caves, allowing Nightcrawler to jump aboard the ship, Quicksilver to gather the astronauts, Cyclops to patch up the hull of the shuttle (with an energy beam periscope!). And Jean Grey to eventually sacrifice herself to keep the crafts from rupturing under the bombardment of a nasty space cloud. The scene is dangerous, and makes Mystique’s case without endlessly pontificating on the X-Men’s core metaphor. But for most of the movie, we get just that.

INFO:

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language)
Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Directed By: Simon Kinberg
Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
Written By: Simon Kinberg
In Theaters: Jun 7, 2019 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Sep 3, 2019
Studio: 20th Century Fox

Stephanie Burt
The movie’s weaknesses make more glaring the movie’s hollowness where the storyline’s feminism once was.

Matthew Norman
A stupendously dull series-ender without a shred of wit, narrative thrust or genuine emotional force.

Matthew Lickona
It didn’t have to end this way…It didn’t have to end with so little emotion, so little meaning – with a sad little speech about evolving, for Phoenix’s sake.

Matthew Rozsa
If future filmmakers can learn these lessons from the travesty of “Dark Phoenix,” it won’t have been a total waste.

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