Marvel’s “The Dark Phoenix Saga” was a comic book story arc that took four years to tell and ran across about forty issues — we’re talking major epic here — so when 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand used the Dark Phoenix as a “B” plot to Magneto’s fight against the mutant “cure,” fans were less than thrilled. This was a clear case of a studio chucking in stuff that they’d heard comic nerds liked, but not actually bothering to work it in organically or logically, it’s all about rush, rush, rush. Now it’s thirteen years later and I’m happy to report that 20th Century Fox has not learned a goddamn thing.
This sequel to X-Men: Apocalypse takes place in the 1990s — jumping ahead a decade without bothering to deal with the fact that Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) or Magneto (Michael Fassbender) should now be in their sixties, yet for some reason don’t look a day over forty — and after a brief prologue, where we find out that eight-year-old Jean Grey accidentally killed her parents with her mutant powers before moving to the everyone’s favourite school for gifted mutants, we discover that, over the years, Xavier has become a huge dick. Even Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), his loyal adopted sister, calls him out on his bullshit, pointing out that instead of helping mutants, he’s actually endangering their lives in what’s conservatively called public relation stunts, just so that he can impress the President and create supposed “goodwill” between Homo sapiens and Homo superior.
One such stunt involves rescuing space shuttle astronauts when their spacecraft was critically damaged by a strange solar flare, and to do this Charles sends his kids up into space aboard the modified Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird — even though Beast (Nicholas Hoult) points out that the plane isn’t rated for outer space — things, of course, go badly and while Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is tasked with keeping the vessel together — using her telekinetic powers to hold the shuttle together — Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) collects the astronauts by teleporting them from the shuttle to the Blackbird, just as a mysterious energy wave smashes into the shuttle, engulfing Jean in cosmic fire.
Having absorbed the entire brunt of the energy flare, Jean Grey is soon revealed to have mega-boosted her powers with this close encounter, and before you can say “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” she’s tossing her friends around like ragdolls and murdering poor Mystique. Now, this should have come across as a very dramatic moment, Mystique being a founding member of this team and sister to Charles, but this film has about as much emotional weight as a deflated bouncy castle. It was widely known that Jennifer Lawrence had no real desire to return, being naked and blue must wear on a person, but the way the writers treated this beloved character is just shameful. Speaking of lack of “emotional weight,” let us not forget the tragic love story between Jean Grey and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), because the writers of this movie certainly forgot about it. The romance between Scott Summers and Jean Grey is another victim of the rushed timeline as their appearances together in X-Men: Apocalypse barely registered on the radar, and not at all helped by the complete lack of chemistry between the two actors. Sophie Turner had more chemistry with cast-mate Jennifer Lawrence, and that relationship had an even more tragic ending.
To say that as a film, Dark Phoenix was just one larger clusterfuck after another, would be a vast understatement, as character after character are forced to trot out some of the worst bits of cliché dialogue, before walking off camera to be forgotten until someone pokes the writers with a stick. The only truly interesting moments in this film happen when Michael Fassbender is on camera, as both he and his character bring a sense of gravitas and power to the proceedings, but then the writers do the best to fuck up Magneto as well — he tends to forget his own abilities as the plot demands — in fact, a better title to this movie would be Dark Phoenix: Character Assassination. Then, to make matters worse, if that even seems possible at this point, we are introduced to the shape-shifting alien race known as the D’Bari, who arrive on Earth to hunt for the “cosmic force” that now lives inside Jean. The leader is named Vuk (Jessica Chastain) and she needs this power to supposedly resurrect her people — we are told the D’Bari homeworld was wiped out by the Phoenix Force as it passed by — and she pops in and out of the movie for literally no fucking reason. Vuk and her shapeshifting goon squad simply provide cannon fodder for our heroes, with the D’Bari soldiers switching between being indestructible and easily killed with no rhyme or reason — Nightcrawler breaks one of their necks with his fucking tail — and why an omega level powered Jean Grey would give this albino chick the time of day is another case of lazy ass screenwriting.
The “Dark Phoenix Saga” could have easily played out across several movies — which the Marvel Cinematic Universe proved could be done with something like Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet — but instead, we get this half-assed public school primary version of the story. The comic dealt with the Hellfire Club and the White Queen, with Jean Grey briefly becoming the Hellfire Club’s Black Queen and going full-on evil, while later in Dark Phoenix mode she had to recharge herself by devouring the energy of the nearby D’Bari star, causing a supernova which kills the entire population of the only civilized planet orbiting the star — clearly a much better way of introducing the D’Bari and a reason to hunt Jean Grey — and then you had the Kree and Skrull empires concluding that Dark Phoenix is an even more serious threat than the planet-consuming Galactus and must be destroyed. Doesn’t that sound better than anything this film had to offer? How can one studio so colossally fuck up such a great story?
• At the end of X-Men: Apocalypse, we saw Jean Grey go all “Phoenix Force” incinerating Apocalypse’s body, but this event is now retconned to not have happened.
• Storm (Alexandra Shipp) uses weather powers in space. Huh?
• With the Phoenix powers, Jean has the ability to instant-kill her opponents, which she will not use against enemies who may be required for later films.
• Jean will switch back and forth from good to evil so often that I’m surprised her teammates don’t get whiplash.
• Beast goes from nice guy to “Must murder Jean Grey” with little to no character progression.
• Quicksilver is dispatched and forgotten so that the writers don’t have to worry about him winning every fight instantly.
• Storm has a decidedly tough time fighting a mutant whose only ability is whip-like dreadlocks. *sigh*
• We find out that the United States Government has granted Magneto and his mutant army an island to live on, which is all kinds of fucked up when you consider in the previous films Magneto had not only dropped a baseball stadium on the White House, and threatened the life of the President, but in X-Men: Apocalypse he was directly responsible for the death of millions.
Director Simon Kinberg had a tough job trying to cram a sprawling storyline into one two-hour movie — though at times it did feel like a three hour movie — and as this was his first feature film as director — another strange choice by Fox — I must put the bulk of the blame for this mess on the studio. Dark Phoenix had a $200 million budget — which as I put this writing, the studio is looking at a $100 million loss — and it’s clear that much of that money was spent on some gloriously awesome visual effects. Unfortunately, they were in support of a script that didn’t make a lick of sense. At least with Fox being purchased by Disney we can consider this last installment as some kind of syphilitic fever dream, and wait patiently until it is rebooted as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Dark Phoenix (2019) – Review
Movie Rank - 4.5/10
With the release Dark Phoenix it’s abundantly clear that the studio didn’t give two shits about the franchise (Was the writing on the wall as per their purchase by Disney?) and the end result was a mess of a film that seemed to believe that continuity happens to other people. I’m saying this film exists solely to make X-Men Last Stand not feel so bad about itself.