With the monumental success of Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame slowly coming to a halt, the monolithic finale to a franchise that has changed the landscape of the 21st Century blockbuster, it seems that 2019 is a bittersweet year for the superhero genre; a year where our beloved heroes say their goodbyes (for the time being, of course). Following suit, Fox now concludes their topsy-turvy mutant franchise with X-Men: Dark Phoenix, a tedious, ass-numbing conclusion to a tired, ageing franchise that has finally been euthanised. It’s a bit like that childhood dog you had: you loved it for years, but then it started to smell and ache, its tired legs giving out beneath them. By the end, you find peace in the fact that it has finally been put out of its misery…
Taglined as ‘The Phoenix will rise’, the final chapter in the X-Men series is based upon the iconic ‘Dark Phoenix Saga’ of graphic novels; a taster of which we were given in the finale of Brett Ratner’s The Last Stand, or more recently, in 2016’s Apocalypse: two lacklustre additions to this back catalogue of mutant tales. It tells the story of Jean Grey (the return of Sophie Turner’s abysmal American accent) and her descent into chaos and tyranny as the vengeful ‘Phoenix’, a product of an intergalactic space-mission-gone-wrong whereby Jean absorbs an unknown power, a force that sends its subject into a spiral of evilness. With such uncontrollable power in her palms, an enigmatic extraterrestrial race helmed by Jessica Chastain’s character (God knows what her name is) seeks to seize it for themselves; to revive their extinct species by achieving global saturation. It’s another bad guy doing bad guy stuff. Yada, yada – let’s move on.
The film opens with blistering pace as it rushes through an origin story for Jean Grey, teasing future enigmas that ultimately amount to nothing. Jean begins to doubt her mentor, the still bald, wheelchair-bound Charles Xavier (once again played by James McAvoy, only this time a little beefier thanks to Glass) and the tensions among the group of mutants don’t stop there. Everyone seems pissed off with everyone, and at this point we start to feel their pain. It’s by this point that I found myself completely numb in my chair, arse itching and eyes heavy as I stick cocktail sticks between my eyes to try and force them ajar.
Such unrelenting boredom is a product of Simon Kinberg’s shallow, exposition-riddled writing. This is perhaps the most leaky, half-assed screenplay of the year, reminiscent of student theatre productions only doubly as bad. One-liners feel forced, emotional stakes deflate like a car tyre over a field of glass, and character motivations just get thrown out the window. It doesn’t help when the actors reciting these lines feel just as fatigued about it all as we are, with phoned in performances aplenty, even from regular show-stoppers James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. As for the titular star, Sophie Turner’s infectious personality off-screen does nothing for her performance in front of the camera, with her inexperience in leading roles making itself evident by lacking the strength needed to drive the narrative forward with any true sense of verisimilitude. Their contracts have finally expired, and you can almost hear the pop of champagne bottles in the distance.
Giving credit where credit is due, Dark Phoenix isn’t entirely awful. It boasts an emphatic score by none other than Hans Zimmer (it’s not the first time he has had to elevate an abysmal comic-book adaptation, Batman v Superman cough, cough), and there are some truly exceptional and awe-striking visuals to be savoured by Mauro Fiore and his collaboration with the digital effects department; but these feats merely disguise the stench of the absolute mess underneath.
Without sounding overly harsh, Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix is a dud. It lacks the emotional and dramatic sensibility to make the viewer feel any sense of empathetic connection to the material, a worrying issue seeing as we have had enough time with these characters over the years, but more than that it’s just a poorly executed movie. From the screenplay to the performances, there’s a palpable lack of effort that plagues the entire production. With the Disney/Fox merger in consideration, this will not be the end of cinema’s exploration of the beloved X-Men – let’s just hope that Disney finds fresher ground for these mutant stories that we have grown to love.
Directed by: Simon Kinberg
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Jessica Chastain