Following previous failed attempts at adapting the iconic Dark Phoenix storyline, this 2019 entry into the fledgling franchise acts as a last shot in the dark to create a strong and impactful superhero film that stands out from the domineering Marvel Cinematic Universe. After all, X-Men was one of the first superhero films to succeed in the early noughties and kick-start the current boom. Unfortunately, X-Men: Dark Phoenix fails completely in almost every endeavour, leaving the franchise ending on a sour note that will have even the most diehard fans disappointed and baffled at the boring and inconsistent creative choices made by 20th Century Fox. The only possible explanation I can fathom is that they purposefully tried to fail in order to facilitate a quick and easy reboot within the mothership of the safe but effective MCU. The worst bit about all this? I’m actually glad.
Before this rant begins, I need to point out that the wide cast do give good performances and continue to excel as these characters; Particularly James McAvoy and Sophie Turner as Xavier and the titular Phoenix. While their characters go to very different places, each make the turn feel natural and impactful at the right moments. The primary fault with the film lies in the script which gives very little dialogue or development to a majority of the core X-Men. Despite a long enough running time, no character bar the two main leads had anything really to do and, whenever sincere moments did arise, it felt neither earned nor appropriate for the amount of screen time given. This factor may be due to the extensive reshoots ( which are painfully apparent in the third act) but it honestly felt like a joke when we were expected to care about people who hadn’t even been named amidst a muddy and rushed final battle. Dark Phoenix is the directorial debut of writer Simon Kinberg and unfortunately it shows. The direction throughout was amateurish to say the least with uninteresting visuals and often incoherent action scenes; making the film look and feel more like a low budget television show than a final send-off for this iconic franchise.
In terms of action, the final train sequence did have some exciting moments but it was still frankly underwhelming and failed to use the character’s powers in interesting ways. The rest of the film was practically devoid of action and, while this isn’t inherently negative, Kinberg did nothing to keep the audience engaged in its place. Instead, obvious plot points and repeated dialogue seemed to keep it staggering along at a sauntering pace. Obviously this film was never going to reach the epic heights of Avengers: Endgame in terms of action and spectacle but it fails equally as hard at being something different; not even succeeding as a more dramatic character study. I couldn’t begin to explain what actually fills the runtime because the entire plot and development could be (and was) condensed to a two-minute trailer. My problems with the film can be condensed down to its treatment of fan favourite character Quicksilver. Given a few lines early on, the speedster is injured shortly into the film and then disappears without a single mention for the rest of the running time. Rather than use the most visually interesting and entertaining character in this franchise to its advantage, Kinberg saw how his powers could complicate the script and chose instead to be lazy, hoping the audience would simply forget about him. Its frankly embarrassing.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix ends the franchise on a low point. As an avid fan of the comics and the film franchise, it breaks my heart to say but this is perhaps the worst superhero film I have seen in recent years. Every choice made baffles and thwarts the massive potential of such iconic and interesting characters. With literally years of material at their disposal, Fox and Kinberg chose instead to make a dull and dispassionate final entry into this dying franchise. Ironically enough, this Dark Phoenix will not rise again.