The X-Men films are the superhero equivalent to the Adam Sandler Netflix films, derivative pieces of crap from people who have the ability to accomplish a whole lot more.
With the recently closed sale of 20th Century Fox to Disney, Fox's 19 years of suffocating the life out of the X-Men is supposedly coming to an end, though we all know that the stop-and-start New Mutants is still out there somewhere and in all likelihood Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe will inevitably pick up these storylines at some point once the post-traumatic stress from these films has subsided and climate change has turned the earth into a cosmic dust wasteland not far removed from that which consumes Sophie Turner's Jean Grey in this second attempt to explore the Dark Phoenix story by Fox.
With the exception of the nearly masterful Logan, these X-Men films have ranged from incredibly godawful to "It didn't quite make me want to stab my eyes out."
Dark Phoenix? Easily one of the worst of the franchise and easily one of the worst films of 2019 so far.
No matter how familiar Simon Kinberg may be with the source material as the franchise's longtime scribe and producer, Dark Phoenix is precisely what happens when you have a novice director playing it safe and multiple key players approaching the ends of their far too damn long contracts by sleepwalking their way through characters and scenes that should be a whole lot more exciting and entertaining than what unfolds on the big screen.
Dark Phoenix is a just plain ole' clunker, a film that so abysmally explains the cosmic dust that envelopes Jean Grey during an X-Men mission to rescue a NASA Space Shuttle mission that I couldn't help but think of Tom Hanks' epic battle with brain fog in Joe Vs. the Volcano.
The film is set in 1992, which means the younger incarnation of the cast with James McAvoy rather than Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender is on deck as Magneto rather than Ian McKellen.
Truthfully, it doesn't really matter.
Sophie Turner is modestly impressive here, though she's saddled with such clunker dialogue and ludicrous set-ups that she ultimately can't manage to make anything in this film actually matter. Academy Award-winner Jennifer Lawrence is back for her presumably final go-around as Raven, though it's easy to see she's detached from the film before the opening credits are even finished. She's one of Jean's biggest cheerleaders, at least until she isn't. Tye Sheridan is here as Cyclops, Jean's hottie boyfriend who spends most of the film doing what hottie boyfriends do.
I don't really know what that is since I'm not a hottie boyfriend and I don't have a hottie boyfriend, though it doesn't look particularly interesting or entertaining.
Nicholas Hoult has solid moments as Beast, Kodi Smit-McPhee has one truly terrific scene as Nightcrawler, Alexandra Shipp is fine as Storm, and Evan Peters suffices as Quicksilver.
Truthfully, the best player here is Fassbender, who manages to make Magneto have some gravitas despite utterly repulsive dialogue and such abrupt character shifts that you half wonder if he's taken over McAvoy's character(s) from Split.
While it's a tad refreshing that Kinberg doesn't really play much of Dark Phoenix laughs, his inability to build anything resembling cohesiveness, tension, or intrigue ultimately leads up to unintentional laughs at the expense of characters who are supposed to awe us. One scene involving a confrontation between Jean and Charles Xavier ultimately crosses the line of bad taste around Xavier's wheelchair, ultimately reducing the faux inspirational dude to not much more than a marionette.
Trust me, it's tasteless.
Much of the film seemingly plays out in Jean's mind, her childhood memories fractured for reasons that will be disclosed in the film, yet their resolution matters less than Kinberg's obsession with showing just how much Jean hurts those with whom she becomes close.
I'm fairly sure at some point I mumbled "We get the point already!"
Jessica Chastain is here as an alien named Vuk, her role so utterly confounding that even the normally reliable Chastain is reduced to alien eye flittering and such weird vocalizations that for a while I actually thought it was Bryce Dallas Howard.
By the end of mercifully fairly short film, even Hans Zimmer's disturbingly overwrought original score was pissing me off, an attempt to build drama where there was no drama and an attempt to create feeling in a film where neither the dialogue nor the characters elicit anything resembling a feeling.
There's an intriguing story possibility somewhere lurking beneath the surface of Dark Phoenix, but Kinberg's directorial inexperience is on full display and even worse he's clearly not able to inspire his ensemble cast to give it their all one last time. This is a paycheck film and it never feels like anything more than a paycheck film.
Perhaps more promising than almost any arc within the X-Men universe, Dark Phoenix is reduced to a brain numbing, overly edited piece of thematic drivel with a familiar and uninvolving story, an even more detached ensemble, unintentional humor, far too rapidly shifting characters, absolutely moronic dialogue, and a cumbersome pace that leaves you wishing Thanos would shop up and wipe out the X-Men half of the universe.
It takes a special director to squander the talents of Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and to a lesser degree Michael Fassbender, but such is the case with Dark Phoenix, a film sure to be mentioned come Razzie season.
Now then, let me get out of here and go take a shower to get this cosmic dust crap off of me.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic