It would be easy to write off X-Men: Dark Phoenix as a complete and utter disaster. With the departure of Bryan Singer (again) from the franchise, first-time director Simon Kinberg taking his place and rumours of costly reshoots pushing the budget north of $200million, things weren’t looking good for this adaptation of the popular Marvel comic.
Let’s not forget that the last time Fox tried to adapt this storyline we ended up with 2006’s The Last Stand, and the less said about that the better. Looking back over the last 20 years, the X-Men’s film franchise history has been chequered to say the least.
Nevertheless, this particular timeline that started with Matthew Vaughn’s adequate First Class, followed up by the excellent Days of Future Past and the flabby Apocalypse ends with Dark Phoenix. But is it worthy of your consideration?
This is the story of one of the X-Men’s most beloved characters, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), as she evolves into the iconic Phoenix. During a rescue mission in space, Jean is hit by a cosmic force that transforms her into one of the most powerful mutants of all. Wrestling with this increasingly unstable power as well as her own personal demons, Jean spirals out of control, tearing the X-Men family apart and threatening to destroy the very fabric of our planet.
First things first – this is not a bad film. Yes, you heard me right. Leagues above Apocalypse and much better than The Last Stand, Dark Phoenix is a film that has been let down by catastrophically poor marketing. It’s not perfect, as we’ll discover in this review, but it tries a different approach, and for that it should be applauded.
For this reviewer, the modern day cast of characters has always been a weak spot for the series and that doesn’t really change in Dark Phoenix. James McAvoy remains miscast as Charles Xavier, especially since packing on the muscle for this Glass, but he performs much better here than he did in its predecessor. His transition into egotistical maniac, obsessed by the celebrity status the X-Men have acquired at the outset of the film is an intriguing diversion from where he was at the end of Apocalypse.
The younger cast are more likeable. Kodi Smitt-McPhee’s portrayal of Nightcrawler is fabulous and he gets more to do this time around. Tye Sheridan is great as young Cyclops and Evan Peters’ Quicksilver remains a highlight, though it’s unfortunate he’s cast aside relatively quickly – for fans of his set pieces from the previous two films, you’ll be disappointed here. Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult bring their a-games, but they even seem a little bored by what’s going on. “You’re always sorry, Charles. And there’s always a speech. But nobody cares anymore!” bites Michael Fassbender at one point in the film – perhaps he’s onto something?
The first hour is perhaps the best the series has been since Days of Future Past
Of the female cast, Sophie Turner does her best with the material she’s given, and her Jean Grey is full of anger, angst and melancholy. The script struggles to provide her with any other emotion, but she’s a pleasing protagonist for the most part. Unfortunately, Jennifer Lawrence completely phones in her performance as Mystique and Jessica Chastain’s horrifically underwritten villain wastes a fabulous actor in a thankless role – much like Oscar Issac in Apocalypse.
With reports of heavy reshoots, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the film would end up a royal mess. Thankfully, the first hour is perhaps the best the series has been since Days of Future Past. Focusing on character development rather than all-out action, it’s a pleasing change and one which is more than welcome. Unfortunately, as time ticks away, the film loses all semblance of sanity and becomes muddled as it steamrolls towards an underwhelming climax.
And despite the reported budget of $200million, some of the shot choices and outfits feel cheap. It’s clear director Simon Kinberg is a fan of the series, but the X-Men costumes are bland, ill-fitting and a world away from what we’ve seen before. Closer to the comics they may be, but that’s not always a good thing. Elsewhere, the film feels cut-rate, almost TV-movie like and that’s a real shame because the special effects are top-notch. Mercifully, Hans Zimmer’s score is wonderful. The soaring orchestral soundtrack works brilliantly with the film – it’s probably the best music in the series to date.
Overall, X-Men: Dark Phoenix has been a victim of poor marketing with trailers that spoilt perhaps the most pivotal moment of the film (which we won’t spoil here). Nevertheless, the first hour is great and the special effects provide the film with some thrilling set pieces. It’s a shame then that the film offers up nothing new to the table despite some committed performances – this Phoenix just doesn’t quite rise to the occasion.