And so it ends, not with a bang and not even with a whimper. Instead, the
once-proud X-Men franchise ends in muted repose, rendered comatose by the
shockingly bland and startlingly bad Dark Phoenix.
While it never sinks to the nadir of
X-Men Origin Wolverine
X-Men: The Last Stand, it's not far away. Dark Phoenix is like Smokey and the Bandit 3,
when even Burt Reynolds knew enough was enough and bailed before filming got
underway. Dark Phoenix is like A View to a Kill, the 007 entry in which poor
Roger Moore needed a walker more than he needed another shag with a Bond girl.
Dark Phoenix is like Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach, so feeble that
it couldnít even keep series star Steve Guttenberg in its clutches. Wait,
scratch that: Nothing is as bad as those Police Academy movies.
The point is that the X-Men franchise should never have ended on such a dreary
note. X-Men, X2,
X-Men First Class,
X-Men Days of Future Past
ó all excellent,
and all indicators that this was that rare franchise with more highs than lows.
None of that counts for naught in the face of Dark Phoenix. In comic lore, the
Dark Phoenix saga is one of the greats, and
X-Men: The Last Stand botched the
assignment when it tried to transfer it to the multiplex. Dark Phoenix is yet
another stab at the same material, and it mangles the task even more horribly
than its predecessor.
X-Men: The Last Stand was one of the films that featured the X-Men as
adults, whereas Dark Phoenix arrives as part of the reboot that imagines the
characters as younger versions of themselves. Thanks to inspired writing and
spot-on performances, this worked beautifully in
X-Men First Class and
X-Men Days of Future Past, but some ill-advised casting and lack of depth in the characterizations
and now Dark Phoenix into basically Muppet Babies X-Men, as
Sophie Turner (Jean Grey/Phoenix), Tye Sheridan (Scott Summers/Cyclops) and
Alexandra Shipp (Ororo Munroe/Storm) fail to capture the essence of their iconic
characters (only Kodi Smit-McPhee as Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler seems likely to
morph into the older version of himself, the one played by Alan Cumming in X2).
As before, Jean Grey is exposed to extra-terrestrial elements that transform her
from the heroic Phoenix into the villainous Dark Phoenix, and itís up to the
others to either save her or destroy her. Those who seek to assist her include
Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), while
those who want to off her include Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender)
and Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult). Entering the proceedings as a wild card
is the alien evildoer Vuk (a dull Jessica Chastain), who hopes to absorb Jeanís
newfound powers and use them for her own nefarious purposes.
Even when the results are as accomplished as those in
Avengers: Endgame or the
Star Trek reboots, itís becoming increasingly irksome to watch all these
alternate reality storylines that basically wipe away years of investment in
earlier movies and their attendant characters. Thatís most pronounced in Dark
Phoenix, since weíre now made to accept that
X-Men: The Last Stand never existed. Yet Famke Janssenís turn as Jean Grey was worthy of our sympathies as to the
heroineís fate, a condition gravely missing from this latest rendition. Turner
is a colorless Phoenix, and with little built-up back-story to this new
interpretation of the role, nothingís really at stake.
Jean isnít the only character to receive rough treatment. Inexplicably, Charles
Xavier has been refashioned as a self-centered glory hound who craves public
adulation and thinks nothing of tampering with the minds of his young charges.
As for Mystique, sheís largely a non-entity here, although thatís more on
Lawrence than even on the scripters. Rarely have I seen a performer so bored
with her role ó if you squint really hard, you can probably spot her in the
background of various scenes checking her watch repeatedly.
On the plus side, thereís Fassbender, whoís probably just as bored as Lawrence
and McAvoy but does a better job of masking it. Thereís also an extended battle
aboard a train that provides the expected action in satisfactory style.
Otherwise, Dark Phoenix is a dour and depressing disappointment. The X-Men
franchise may yet rise again from the ashes, but for now, itís still being
administered its last rites. Itís hard to know what the performers could have
accomplished would the material not so depressed and half-hearted. But so much
goes so wrong so quickly with Dark Phoenix that the wasted onscreen talent is
the least of the movieís concerns. Itís a sad way to end a franchise of merit,
especially with the shadow of
Logan still stretching so deep. Maybe the MCU can
make a third attempt at the Dark Phoenix saga the charm. Until then, weíre left
sifting through the ashes and marveling at what may be gone for good.