Dark Phoenix . . . . . . . . . . exists.
While I am glad of its existence, as it meant I could gaze longingly at Sophie Turner’s perfect hair for an hour and a half, I can’t help wishing it were A LOT better.
When it comes to X-Men, I am biased. I love the cartoons, I love the comics, and I love all the movies. Yes, all of them. X-Men: Apocalypse is by far my favourite, and I’m willing to overlook its bad pacing and sub-par performances for a rollicking good time. But as much as it pains me to say it, Dark Phoenix is the first X-Men film where I have actively said in the theatre, “Wow. This is REALLY bad.”
Dark Phoenix, (hastily reshot and thrown together while Fox sorted out legal jargon with the studio powerhouse of Mouse), is the second attempt to adapt the legendary Phoenix Saga, in which formidable telepath Jean Grey is empowered by a cosmic force that grants her abilities beyond her wildest dreams and nightmares. The familiar cast of the X-Men rebooted series is joined by Jessica Chastain, playing an alien entity desperate to take that power for her own people.
The story, while good for a Monster of the Week sub-par Doctor Who episode, is nowhere near complex enough to fill a two-hour film. Meaningful themes of loss, acceptance and identity are swept aside for character stereotypes and rice-paper thin villain motivations. The acting is great; James McAvoy (Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Magneto) and Nicholas Hoult (Hank McCoy) are clearly making the best of a bad situation and giving their all with their performances, and Sophie Turner as the Phoenix really shines through the duality of her character. However, despite some fantastic work in the past, Chastain was a serious let down. She may have intended to make her character calculating and balletic, but her lack of emotion and uninspired design combine to make her the most forgettable X-Men villain yet.
Long-term X-Men producer Simon Kinberg takes on the role of director for this new (and probably final) instalment in the series, but his lack of experience behind the camera unfortunately shows. The film seems devoid of creative inspiration, like it was thrown together from a Directing For Dummies handbook; flashbacks are fuzzy, action is fast-paced, conversations are made up of shot-reverse-shots and everything feels unendurably predictable. And don’t even get me started on the cringe-worthy, face-palmingly bad dialogue. Apologies to the two other people in the cinema who were looking around to see where all the exasperated groaning was coming from.
The highlight of the film is the action. While Apocalypse felt a little tame in comparison, this time all the X-Men get to show off their powers in new and creative ways. Storm and Nightcrawler, while unfortunately reduced to background characters in the dialogue scenes, were especially fun to watch, zooming and teleporting around the screen in fight scenes that rival Days of Future Past. But unfortunately, brute force was not enough to save the film. I’m still glad I saw it; McAvoy and Turner’s performances were enough to slightly redeem some of the duller moments. And it is better than The Last Stand. But “slightly better,” is nowhere near enough to rekindle the X-Men series’ fire.
Rating = 2 stars out of 5
By Rachel Denham-White