Dark Phoenix

Oh boy. Let me start by saying that I love movies. I watch a lot of them, and I go out of my way to write reviews that don’t skew overly negative, because most movies might reach somebody somewhere. And with as much effort as goes into a movie, there’s almost always something good. So I want to start with an apology, because I don’t know how to be nice about Dark Phoenix.

It’s a dumpster fire, y’all. Of the grandest proportions. It takes almost 20 years of X-Men movie mythology and mostly ignores it. Honorable characters are despicable. Villains have the moral compass. Up is down. Down is up. It’s almost impossible to believe that writer and director Simon Kinberg could actually do this to the X-Men franchise. He’s written or produced almost all of them. He knows everything there is to know about the X-Men. So how did it come to this?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I think the saddest thing of all about this movie is that you can tell that everyone working on it genuinely wanted it to be good. The actors deliver the material as best they can. I think Kinberg even directs as best he can. But he’s just not up to the task of wrangling these award-winning actors or presenting a cohesive movie. It’s not often that I’m filled with overwhelming embarrassment for the people who made a movie, but this is one of those times. It’s like a kid desperately trying to draw something that they just don’t have the motor control to get out on paper. Bless their hearts.

The Dark Phoenix saga in the comic books is one of the great classics. I get it. I imagine Kinberg loves it (he’s made a movie about it twice now, after all). But here’s the problem — you have to make a movie with what you have, not what you want. And Sophie Turner is just not something you have. She’s a young, mediocre actress who can’t carry the subtlety and turmoil of Jean Grey in this particular story line. You know what he did have, though? James “Frickin'” McAvoy, Jennifer “Awesomesauce” Lawrence, and Michael “Amazeballs” Fassbender (I give my permission to Jim, Jen, and Mike to use those new nicknames free of charge). I humbly submit that, in this case, they should have picked a different story and built around their strengths.

There is one action sequence towards the end of the movie that’s not bad, though certain mutants sometimes wait a little too long to use their powers effectively (I’m looking at you, Magneto — you’re in a train full of guns. There’s nothing that isn’t metal. This is like your playground). They come around eventually, though, and there are a few inventive sequences. Nightcrawler, in particular, goes whole hog and gets really violent. It just all feels a little hollow when its servicing a plot that doesn’t really ever gel.

Also, the movie is just devoid of joy. Some movies are. Logan is famously dark, for example. Still, there’s cathartic joy in that movie — the idea that a near-immortal might actually like to finally die. In this movie, there’s no such catharsis. No one is particularly heroic, relationships are destroyed, and no one really comes out on top.

The X-Men have been around a long time. Even if you ignore the folks who read the comics, there are movies dating back to 2000 that have ingrained them into our collective psyche. They’re American lore at this point. And that means, to some extent, we all own them. If you take characters we love, ignore their best qualities, and send them on a different, inexplicable path, it’s going to be hard to endear yourself to viewers. Beast can’t suddenly turn into a murderer. Xavier can’t be revealed as a scumbag. Mystique can’t be the only person with any morals. That’s not the X-Men. That’s… something else foreign and uncomfortable.

So, yeah. I just can’t recommend this movie for pretty much anyone. It is the end of this particular franchise, though, and maybe there’s something about the finality that might entice you to watch it. I’ve probably gotten your expectations so low at this point, that you might not hate it as much as me. I’m just very grateful that Wolverine got to go out on his own terms in the masterpiece that was Logan instead of going down on the sinking ship that is Dark Phoenix.

Rating: 1.5 stars
Should you watch it? Only if you understand that it’s not good and still want to watch it anyway
Should you take your kids? Standard PG-13 fare, so choose accordingly
What you should watch first: You could watch all the other X-Men films, but it doesn’t really matter. This movie ignores pretty much all of them except the fact that there are mutants and they have the same names.

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