Thursday 6 June 2019

Film Review: X-Men - Dark Phoenix

Writer/director Simon Kinberg's X-Men: Dark Phoenix sees the long-running series end with a whimper.

Every time an X-Men film is born, the gods flip a coin. Sometimes you get the right side, and a film like Logan is released. Other times, we find ourselves sitting through X-Men Origins: Wolverine...

The popular 'Dark Phoenix' saga has been adapted for the silver screen before, in 2006's maligned X-Men: The Last Stand (which, strangely, was also penned by Simon Kinberg). But the unpopular entry has since been overwritten by time travel shenanigans, and now Fox has chosen to revisit the iconic storyline for a second time to "do it justice".

After a mission into outer space goes awry, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) finds herself the bearer of unimaginable power. After learning the truth about her parents, Jean flees Xavier's School for Gifted Youngster and allies herself with a nefarious character played by Jessica Chastain (who shall remain nameless). The remaining X-Men – Professor X, Mystique, Beast, Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler and Quicksilver – are faced with finding Jean and bringing her home before she lets her darkest impulses get the better of her.

Proving that white men can only fail upwards in Hollywood, Kinberg's second crack at the Dark Phoenix saga is somehow worse than his first. This new film is a special kind of shite in that it's not an abomnible trashfire like Origins: Wolverine or gleefully messy like The Last Stand; it just exists as another entry in a series that increasingly long in the tooth, another misfire that derails what momentum the franchise still had.

The whole film is overshadowed by a grim feeling of 'been here, done this', with certain moments (Jean returns home, the X-Men grieve a personal loss) struck in the same manner as The Last Stand. Recurring themes the series has touched on before (Charles and Erik start out at odds but find common ground come the end) feel so tired at this point, rather than meaningful and cyclical.

Worst of all, Dark Phoenix is staggeringly dull. Aside from the familiar plot and repetitive character arcs, it fails to excite or even entertain in the same way its predecessors did. The three major set pieces lack flair, with the finale descending into a shaky mess of bodies and colour. And then it just calls it a night – Kinberg feels as though he is building to something, only to bring things to screeching halt.

Much like Apocalypse (and to a lesser extent, Days of Future Past), Dark Phoenix suffers from the extended time jump preceding it. Set in 1992 (nine years after Apocalypse), a lot of character growth has taken place in the intervening years, which leaves you playing catch up and saps any lingering investment we may have from the previous movies.

Who is Jean Grey, exactly? What is her relationship with Scott like? How have they grown and changed? How has the transition from students to leaders shaped their lives? None of these questions are answered in Dark Phoenix. In the first act, Quicksilver quips "I guess we do space missions now" before the team embarks on their ill-fated jaunt into the space. It's intended as a throwaway joke, but it begs the question – have the X-Men, in their current iteration, ever done any missions at all? Who are these people, and why should we care?

This same nonchalance carries over to the cast. Franchise stalwarts such as Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender are practically sleepwalking through their scenes, with the former practically checking her watch en route to getting written out of the film.

Evan Peters, who was a revelation in his previous two appearances as Quicksilver, is similarly thrust to the periphery of the picture, significantly sapping the energy of the film. Alexandra Shipp is once again given nothing to work with as Storm while Tye Sheridan's second swing at Cyclops is hamstrung by the aforementioned time jump and off-screen character work.

Turner puts in a decent innings as the titular avian - the plot demands she veer from self-assured to violently destructive and vulnerable at the drop of a hat - and she handles the spotlight well. It doesn't change the fact that this film is all over the shop though – finding a consistent emotional through line is hard.

Hans Zimmer's score does away with Michael Kamen memorable motif, replacing it with some sonorous (and typically Zimmer) thrumming. Granted, it is the best thing about this whole affair.

The Verdict: 3/10

Instead of rising from the ashes of Apocalypse, Dark Phoenix crashes and burns in a smouldering heap. If this is to be the final X-Men film with this cast and in this universe, then the series will have ended with a fizzle rather than a bang.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is in cinemas across Australia now.

1 comment:

  1. The X-Men films are the new Targaryens. I've been so disappointed with all things X-Men recently (minus Logan) that I can't be bothered to see this.



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