Simon Kinberg already took on crack at X-Men’s “Dark Phoenix Saga” with 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, and while I wouldn’t put it anywhere near the top tier of films in the X-Men franchise, it’s not exactly at the bottom of the list either. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Dark Phoenix, which sees the return of Kinberg as the film’s screenwriter and also marks his directorial debut. It’s a jumbled mess that struggles with nearly every aspect of pacing, characters, and story. There is no glorious rise from the ashes, only a momentous crash and burn.
While on a rescue mission in space, the X-Men encounter what is believed to be a solar flare threatening the safety of the space shuttle Endeavour. The team is able to get all of the astronauts off the ship in time, but Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) doesn’t make it back in time and is hit by the full force of this mysterious energy. Rather than kill her though, the energy makes her stronger beyond belief, but with Jean’s newfound power comes a struggle to control it.
Dark Phoenix is meant to be the culmination of the X-Men franchise - the rights have now returned to Disney/Marvel following their purchase of Fox - but it practically comes dead on arrival. The story is paper thin with nothing ever being even remotely explained. Jessica Chastain plays the so-called villain of the film, the leader of an alien race known as the D’Bari who wants the power Phoenix Force inside Jean for herself, but that’s about all we get from her. Her character is nothing more than an opposing force to Jean and frankly could have been excluded from the film entirely without much change to the overall plot. Dark Phoenix simply does a horrible job at making you care about any of these characters, new or old.
Instead, all the film seems preoccupied with is getting close-up shots of every character breaking down in tears. Seriously. Every other scene is someone internally struggling, whether it’s James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, and of course Sophie Turner. It’s a little overkill, although to be fair all of the actors do manage decent performances given the material they were working with.
The only redeeming aspect of the film comes towards the end with its big action set piece on a train where everyone gets to show off their mutant powers. It’s a reminder that X-Men movies could be fun and exciting and not just dull exposition that doesn’t really go anywhere. Unfortunately it comes much too late in the film as by that point you’re ready for the end credits to just start rolling.
Dark Phoenix was supposed to be the swan song for Fox’s X-Men franchise. Instead, it goes out on a sour note. Perhaps Disney and Marvel Studios will resurrect mutants from the ashes as was intended, but for now I think it’s best that things stay dead and buried for the time being.