Dark Phoenix: A Film Review

Closing the Book and Wondering What Could Have Been

Cast:

James McAvoy … Professor Charles Xavier

Michael Fassbender … Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto

Jennifer Lawrence … Raven / Mystique

Nicholas Hoult … Hank McCoy / Beast

Sophie Turner … Jean Grey / Phoenix

Tye Sheridan … Scott Summers / Cyclops

Alexandra Shipp … Ororo Munroe / Storm

Evan Peters … Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver

Kodi Smit-McPhee … Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler

Jessica Chastain … Vuk

When I was just a young lad, I discovered the X-Men comic book and it quickly became my favorite comic book. Even among my friends, X-Men held high over Superman and Batman. Two of my favorite characters were The Angel because I envisioned me having the ability to fly with those wings and Colossus, with his ability to turn his skin into armor coupled with his super strength. When X-Men came to the big screen, The Angel was not a central character in the development of characters. He was only seen as a secondary character in X-Men: The Last Stand in a bit part and again in the dreadful X-Men: Apocalypse where his character is portrayed as a self-pitying drunk with low self-esteem.

Colossus came to the big screen in the much better X-Men: Days of Future Past and it too was in a bit role. His status improved much better with his appearance in Deadpool and Deadpool 2 that gave him more visibility as the comic foil to Deadpool. But neither of these two characters show up in what is considered the last X-Men movie in this long-running franchise. Dark Phoenix is the name of the latest film. Gone is the title, X-Men. I don’t know if that was by design or by opposition or was it a foretelling to a line that Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique character says within the film?

The time stamp on this latest X-Men adventure states that it’s 1992. You wouldn’t think much of it except the time stamp plays a significant plot point throughout the duration of this film but not in a good way. There is an immediate crisis that has unfolded. The space shuttle is in trouble and the President has called on the X-Men to attempt a rescue of the shuttle crew. As quick as you can say cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, the X-Men are on the ship and in space. In this iteration, the X-Men are not the ostracized children of society and are looked on in great favor. So, they forge ahead and come upon the shuttle.

Nightcrawler and Quicksilver pop over and retrieves the crew sans the commander. Jean pops back over with them but calamity ensues and boom, Jean absorbs the energy that was headed towards the shuttle. Of course, leading up to this is the worst dialogue among the X-Men that was the typical hackneyed drivel spoken when a person is left behind and there are imminent danger seconds away. Jean capitulates and finds her life in danger. We’ve seen this too many times and they dip back in the well for this tired trope. The crew is rescued and they return to a hero’s welcome.

Back at the school, Professor X and Mystique are having a heated conversation about the role they are playing with Mystique taking the position that their time with the humans is only short-lived depending on the weather. Charles disagrees and wants to maintain and cultivate the school as a benevolent entity. Mystique makes a comment that has no bearing on what they are discussing and feels like a total SJW comment pulled out of 2019. She makes the claim that the women have been saving the men more these days and that X-Men should be called X-Women. One, in the history of this franchise, the men and women have fought equally. Two, X-Men is the name of the franchise. Three, the comment takes you out of the movie and becomes a red flag issue of the specter of identity politics rearing its head.

There is also Mystique herself in that Mystique is not the Mystique of old. Mystique was or is a villain. She’s not as blue as she once was. This Mystique is a negotiator. She’s not the antagonist but instead, she’s a nurturer, a passive resistor. You don’t even recognize her anymore. She’s not the Mystique Rebecca Romijn established in the original film portrayal. This Mystique has subjugated herself into wearing a uniform. She even realizes this as she has expressed to Hank her reservation about her continued role at the school. For us, the viewers, we’ve seen the neutering of Mystique approaching this path for a while now and a lot has been lost in terms of strength of character and having a formidable foe with Mystique. Even seeing Magneto relegated to a safe haven caretaker didn’t make it any better.

I would like to discuss the Jessica Chastain character. Why was she there? Some alien entity takes over her body and she turns in Edgar and Johnny Winter’s kid brother.

Of course, this takes place in the dark of night, another overused trope where you never really get to see what is going on. You’re left with guessing. No explanation is given on the aftermath of the dinner party. She just goes outside, goes all ‘Invasion of The Body Snatchers’ on us, goes back in and kills her significant other. Now she must locate Jean Grey and she does without the aid of a GPS smartphone because as you know, this is 1992. How are they finding each other in record time?

And speaking of Jean, she has believed that she had killed her parents when she was eight-years-old. She was half right. She killed her mother but her father survived the auto crash. Jean discovers that her father is alive through her newly enhanced powers. She goes back to her childhood home and finds him still in terror over the incident. Like that eight-year-old girls, Jean reverts to throwing a tantrum. The X-Men has strangely found Jean at her childhood home as they confront her. Now here is the odd thing. The police show up to the home in force in under five minutes. One, who called the police? Two, was the police station right around the corner? Three, what crime was she committing? These are legitimate questions to some gaping plot holes.

Jean has a dust-up with her team and in the process, she kills Mystique. It wasn’t shocking, at least, not to me. Hank is upset and so is Scott. The chemistry between Scott and Jean is muted. There is none that is on display. A team of bloodhounds wouldn’t be able to find any chemistry between these two. Even the original Scott and Jean didn’t have any. I guess they at least made this aspect of Dark Phoenix consistent with the previous X-Men.

Professor X is also facing some character issues. He has never been known to seek any glory with the good deeds the X-Men have done. Now he seeks recognition and the accolades that come with rescuing people. Of course, the premise is short lived and at the same time, you already knew that this concept was on borrowed time set to expire when a mutant goes against the normals. This is not the Xavier we have come to know. In Logan, we saw a broken, tired and resigned old man who no longer saw a future anymore. A younger version of him once cried out to Logan, “I don’t want your future!” Perhaps he didn’t know that it isn’t the future that you inherit, it is the future that you make. He has made his.

The third act turns this floundering script around a bit. It is the action scenes that are the staple to X-Men films. Sometimes it’s innovative and sometimes it’s just the paint by numbers routine rock-em, sock-em events. I think every action type movie should take a page from John Wick and steal their formula of not repeating the same stunts.

This, unfortunately, is not a repeat business movie. It is a one and done and closed the books on this movie franchise type movie. There is no sense of nostalgia like in Avengers: Endgame or Logan. You get no sense of being invested with these characters as they were introduced midway through the franchise. With Logan, we did get to say goodbye to the Professor and Logan after a solid run through some stellar and not so stellar films. Now if there ever will be a movie where Rogue steals the powers from Captain Marvel, I’ll be there.

Dark Phoenix was beset with production delays, re-shoots and bad word of mouth from the pre-screenings. I don’t get the sense of immediacy with this film. There is no clamoring of wanting to see this film. Wolverine isn’t in it. Will Disney pull a Captain Marvel and salt the box-office numbers and inflate the figures? We don’t know what the future will hold in this film franchise as Disney holds all the cards now. Can it or will it be rebooted in five or ten years? In these immortal words from a once and future soldier, “Thank you for your courage through the dark years. I can’t help you with what you must soon face, except to say that the future is not set. You must be stronger than you imagine you can be. You must survive, or I will never exist.” Goodbye X-Men, farewell Logan.

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Architectural Designer, Writer, Music Composer, Photographer, Film Editor, Project Manager, Producer, Director

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Bobbie L. Washington

Bobbie L. Washington

Architectural Designer, Writer, Music Composer, Photographer, Film Editor, Project Manager, Producer, Director

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