“She can’t be helped. She’s a lost cause.”
I wouldn’t go so far as to declare Dark Phoenix as a bad movie. There’s attentive period design and detailed costuming, the story has a decent open, and the VFX are solid. Having said that though, the rest of this unremarkable film is listless from start to end, somehow always moving and breathing despite not having much of a pulse. Dark Phoenix might not be the worst X-Men entry to date (a crown of thorns I’d give to X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but it very well may be the most expendable and mundane in the series.
What’s so confusing about Dark Phoenix is that it’s the culmination of recent X-Men films, and yet it seems to seek stand-alone status as a one-off film as well. Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) wrestles with her past, challenges Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), and has her powers amplified by an unknown force during a space mission gone awry. She can’t control her anger and tragedy strikes, leading her to the dull antagonist Vuk (Jessica Chastain), the head of a confusingly nondescript and shape-shifting alien species. From there allegiances are tested and factions are formed.
It’s fine that Dark Phoenix sticks to the standard X-Men formula, tearing down multiple causeways with the knowledge that the gaps will eventually be temporarily bridged. And like many of the previous movies in this series, the story hones in on adoptive families and the broader acceptance of those considered to be “others.” The same themes run front and center throughout this picture. But Dark Phoenix approaches these aspects without the faintest glimmer of personality or any real interest from those in front of the cameras and those behind the scenes. It’s tired, over-worked, and depressingly dour.
The legendary Hans Zimmer provides the score although you wouldn’t know it. Oscar winner Lee Smith edited the picture, which was shot by his fellow Academy Award cinematographer Mauro Fiore, and neither leave much of an impression on this cookie cutter blueprint of a superhero adventure. And with long time producer Simon Kinberg taking his first official crack at it behind the camera, directing the film quite adequately, Dark Phoenix adheres to such a self-serious and ominous tone that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s all dark and hollow and full of painfully empty, grimacing faces.
Would Dark Phoenix have been more surprising and empowering if it was released before the likes of Captain Marvel or Avengers: Endgame? I think so. But one of my main reservations about this movie would still be Sophie Turner’s lackluster performance as Jean Grey. She doesn’t tap into her character, and at times even seems to be utterly disinterested with the role. The same can be said for most of the cast. Many of them wince with grit and curl their fingers while pulsing their hands, all while Jessica Chastain gets stuck playing a mere mannequin of a villain. Ultimately, Dark Phoenix ends with a hesitant game of chess between old friends, which makes sense for a film marking the close of an increasingly nonsensical series that refused to make a move or go on the offensive. It’s the epitome of what contemporary superhero movies should try not to be.
“Maybe it’s time for us to move on.”
Rating: 2 out of 5