No Concessions: #DarkPhoenix fails to be light at end of Fox’s X-Men tunnel

Fox’s final X-Men venture strives to rewrite its telling of one of comic’s most loved stories. Both internal and external forces leave much desired as Dark Phoenix shines no brighter than its predecessor.

Summer ’03 I sat in a packed theater as Brett Ratner’s X2 thrilled my highest expectations. In the final act, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) makes a courageously selfless act — sacrificing herself to save the entire team, and future, of the X-Men. This unexpected climax left viewers stunned; but, setup one of my all-time favorite cinematic moments.

Just before the credits, Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier narrates about rebirth and evolution. The camera leaves the School for the Gifted, panning to a cascade of blue ocean. Suddenly a shadowy silhouette of a phoenix appears soaring above the sea waters.

The theater erupted in joy as this signified one of comics most popular sagas as the next sequel – Dark Phoenix. Unfortunately X-Men: The Last Stand failed to illustrate Jean Grey’s tumultuous journey of resurrection, destruction and death. The film was such a critical failure, Fox rebooted with 2011’s X-Men: First Class.

Three films and an astounding merger later, Dark Phoenix seeks to restore good faith in the decade-long franchise. Though efforts were strong, the odds were never in DP’s favor.

Initial poor reviews led to delays and reshoots. Mickey’s acquisition of Fox left its release in jeopardy. Casting drama with Jennifer Lawrence fueled disdain. And Singer’s rampant allegations of sexual assault followed the narrative as he’s still credited as a producer.

If that wasn’t enough to handicap its success, the story itself was going to fail as soon as Simon Kinberg yelled action. The saga of Grey’s transformation into one of the universe’s most powerful beings – much like the Phoenix force – cannot be contained in one film.

Following both the comic and 90’s animated series adaptations, Grey’s arc from teenage telepath, to celestial entity and finally the Dark Phoenix, requires a multi-film arc. And given we are in the age of cinematic universe’s and Harry Potters, one would think this would have been the approach. Instead we receive another rushed version of a story that lasted multiple episodes and issues.

By now everyone should be familiar with the premise: Jean becomes a host to a foreign power triggering dormant trauma from her past. These emotions paired with her immensely enhanced abilities make her the most powerful mutant — and threat — on the planet.

First the good. The film did a better job of adapting the source material, and didn’t try to spool multiple story lines. Last Stand suffered from wanting to be several X-Men stories at once, failing to stick its landing.

Sophie Turner was excellent at portraying the struggle her character faced, balancing a corruption that seemed too natural to be anything but good. She captivates in all her scenes; whether crying to rid of this curse, or embracing the unrestictive power.

What didn’t work? The film itself. What I enjoyed about previous X-films was the rich aligning of societal issues in its story. I can see the attempt with the discussion of trauma and how burying pain affects us later. But it felt rushed without any emotional buildup.

The action sequences fell flat feeling basic and low-end. Maybe this was due to budgeting issues or reshoots, but I had no visceral reaction to what I was witnessing. In the age of epic Avengers battles and Justice League wars, this was a penultimate letdown. I will say they gave Storm more to do — just like any slave.

DF-10689_R2_CROP – Sophie Turner and Jessica Chastain in Twentieth Century Fox’s X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX. Photo Credit: Doane Gregory.

Random annoyances:

  • Mystique and Hank being original X-Men members refusing to be their authentic blue selves
  • Jessica Chastain’s alien race. Instead of giving us the proper Shi’ar Empire, we were stuck with abominable Groot-looking creatures who ran like Forrest Gump
  • Who I assumed to be Dazzler singing an EDM-esque aughts song in the 1990s
  • Storm having fewer lines than any of her counterparts
  • Charles trying to bench her – their most powerful asset
  • Jean never ONCE saying who or what she is – how do you have her not pronounce her superiority as the Dark Phoenix!?!

In all this felt like the least X-Men, X-Men film. A poor send-off for the franchise that single-handedly made comic films cool again.

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