X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Posted: June 29, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Simon Kinberg. Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp and Jessica Chastain.

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It is 1992, nine years following the events of X-Men: Apocalypse, and the X-Men are now well established as heroes. Mutants are no longer hunted, and even Magneto (Fassbender) has stopped fighting, concentrating instead on founding a home for mutants on a remote island. Meanwhile Charles Xavier (McAvoy) is enjoying the adoration that the X-Men bring and has no compunction in sending them on increasingly dangerous missions despite the warnings of Mystique (Lawrence, doing the minimum amount to fulfil her contract). When a space shuttle is threatened by what seems to be a solar flare, Xavier insists the X-Men travel into orbit, despite the misgivings of Beast (Hoult). When disaster strikes Jean Grey (Turner) saves the day, but also absorbs a significant amount of energy.

Back on Earth Jean finds her telekinetic powers have become much stronger, and she’s also begun to remember her past, and a tragedy that Xavier forced her to forget. Increasingly belligerent Jean’s powers, and her rage, grow exponentially, with tragic results for the X-Men. As she goes on the run her exploits make humankind fear mutants again. Hunted by human and mutant alike Jean’s only ally is Vuk  (Chastain) and alien who understands the power Jean now wields, but does Vuk really want to help Jean or does she have an ulterior motive and can the X-Men bring themselves to take down one of their own?

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It’s scary to realise that it’s almost 20 years since X-Men first hit our screens. No one could have guessed the film could be a success, and no one could have guessed how huge a star a certain Mr Jackman would go on to be. There have been 12 films in the X-Men universe so far, and to say their quality has been variable is an understatement. X2 was a rare sequel better than the original, but the follow up (which also featured the Jean Grey/ Phoenix story and was also written by Kinberg) Last Stand was awful, and the Wolverine film that followed was possibly worse. The franchise was reinvigorated by the superb First Class, slipping back in time and recasting the actors, bringing in the likes of McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence, but the franchise has struggled to come close to that highpoint again. Days of Future Past was enjoyable, thanks in no small part to Jackman, but Apocalypse was mediocre at best, not terrible but not exactly exciting.

And so we come to Fox’s penultimate film in the franchise before they had it all over to Disney, and whilst not unenjoyable, the X-Men exit with a whimper rather than a bang.

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Part of the problem is the story, and however much Kinberg wanted a chance to do the Dark Phoenix idea better (a chance afforded by Days of Future Past rewriting the timeline) it’s still a story we saw not that long ago. The story veers all over the place, and whilst Chastain is eerily alien, Vuk never feels like enough of a threat. The dialogue is clunky, and the “maybe we should be the X-Women” line is well intentioned but seems like a sop, especially when for large portions of the film it’s male characters doing much of the heavy lifting.

Lawrence doesn’t seem to be making much of an effort, and some of the younger cast do seem a trifle overawed or side-lined, take Tye Sheridan as Cyclops, though it is hard to express much emotion when your eyes are constantly covered up, or Shipp as Storm who doesn’t get nearly enough to do. Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler is good fun however.

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Turner is good, and gets to show quite a range, but for saying the film is about her, at times the focus shifts too far away from her and she becomes less a character than a plot point. Still the Queen of the North continues to impress as an actor, though the accent takes a little getting used to.

McAvoy, Fassbender (as Magneto) and Hoult are all great actors, and not a one of them feels like they’re phoning it in, but they can only do so much with the material at hand, and the film, like many X-Men films, is kinda hamstrung by feeling the need to be an allegory of the civil rights movement, all the time, and I’m not sure how many times Magneto can flit between sides in the conflict, it all starts becoming a trifle samey.

I wasn’t bored, there’s some neat humour, some good performances, and some enjoyable set pieces—especially the fight on the train—but every time you think the film is going to spring into life it backs down or diverts down a narrative alley.

An enjoyable but in the end eminently forgettable superhero film, but it is at least better than Last Stand (and probably Apocolypse). I guess we wait now to see what Disney will do with Professor X and co, but I can’t help thinking whatever that is, they’ll do it better.

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“I think I can see Micky Mouse from here!”

 

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