‘I’ ON CULTURE
Unfortunately, Dark Phoenix is not a film to enjoy. After a few minutes, you can easily figure out the whole plot despite the fact that much of it makes no sense. Fortunately, it is the last in the 20-year arc of the franchise, and we are not likely to see any more of these X-Men films for years to come.
A group of X-Men (and women), all mutants, are sent to rescue a group of American astronauts. At this point, they are being feted by the president, who has a direct line to Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) in his office). Xavier risks his students to save “normals.” Leading the way is Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) but the centerpiece is Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), who is the most powerful of the group. Using the group’s special skills, the astronauts are rescued, but Grey is left behind to absorb enormous space energy that makes her the strongest being in the universe. If that sounds familiar, check Captain Marvel.
At this point, Grey is rescued but loses control of her powers and starts hurting everyone, including her friends. After killing a few people, she goes on the run to Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) but quickly wears out her welcome. He joins Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) looking for vengeance. Xavier, feeling guilty for not telling Grey the truth about her past and “assisting” her in forgetting it, tries to protect her. There are also a group of seemingly super-powerful aliens led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain) who want to use Grey to wipe out mankind and help their race.
This leads to a lot of fighting and some nice special effects working very hard to make up for an almost ridiculous plot. I blame director/writer Simon Kinberg. The acting is overblown despite the fact that there are so many top performers. A big problem is that although this is a movie about a woman, Jean Grey, we learn so little about her. We do know she caused her mother’s death and Xavier blocked memories of that, essentially lied to her, to help her growth. But once she learns the truth about her past, all she has left until the end is an enormous sense of anger.
Turner is forced to be one-note, basically on the edge of hysteria most of the time when not bouncing between almost teenage angst and sorrow for the damage she causes. Raven tries to use emotions as a way to reach her, but except for that and a few snaps at Xavier for not appreciating women, she barely exists. So what happens is that we have a story about a woman told by looking at the reactions of the men around her. The women barely count. Lawrence is wasted. Chastain, a beautiful woman, is in makeup that makes her look absolutely awful, and her part is one dimensional.
It is the men who seem to count. McAvoy’s Xavier seems consumed with guilt for trying to protect the young Jean Grey from the truth, which would have hurt her, and his is the only personality we get to really learn about, and the only one who changes. Fassbender is totally wasted. He is a superb actor who is mostly reduced to a few grimaces to show anger and a handful of stunts that don’t seem as interesting as in previous movies. Hoult only gets to do a bit of emoting before he’s the Beast, where his prosthetics and makeup prevent any real acting. Tye Sheridan as Grey’s boyfriend Scott/Cyclops gets to be upset a lot. In short, good actors are wasted.
What really bothers me about the film is the total lack of fun in it. Marvel, responsible for the great Avengers series, leaves this a total backwater. Perhaps the difference is that the Avengers are considered heroes. One is even a god. And generally, they can love and are loved while having a sense of fun. On the other hand, the X-Men are mutants… different from the rest of us. Somehow, they seem less human. Crowds look forward to Avengers movies; not enough people care enough about this franchise.
The action is also just not as interesting. A lot of it is simply things being blown apart. There’s not much else. This is probably the end of the franchise for at least a while, and that is probably a good thing. Wait and see it on television.