X-Men: Dark Phoenix review – Disappointing but still entertaining

Posted on 5 June 2019
By Andrew Siddall
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Since being rebooted with a younger cast, the X-Men has seen its highs and lows, but the time has now come to close the door on this chapter and say farewell to the X-Men franchise as we know it, in the Simon Kinberg directed X-Men: Dark Phoenix.

Dark Phoenix picks up in 1992, and sees the X-Men undertaking a life-threatening mission to space, which leads to teammate Jean Grey being hit by a cosmic force that transforms her into the most powerful mutant in the world, but becoming all powerful and having to deal with her own personal demons sees Jean spiralling out of control, threatening her friends, family and the rest of the world.

Taking the lead as Jean is Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones), who manages to find her mojo as the telekinetic mutant, after an uneven debut in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016). She really cuts an imposing image as the Phoenix and portrays her unstable nature brilliantly. The only real drawback is that we never get to see what’s going on in her head, which doesn’t allow us to connect with her in a way that makes us understand her decisions. For a movie that is focused on this character, we don’t get to spend much needed time with her.

Sharing the spotlight is James McAvoy (IT: Chapter 2), returning once again as Professor Charles Xavier. Since making his debut in X-Men: First Class (2011), he has a done a fantastic job of making the role his own and giving us something different each time. In this film, he achieves the same goal, but unlike his other appearances, he feels out of character and sometimes a little villainous. This was the intention by writer Simon Kinberg, but with this version of the character, it doesn’t quite fit.

Also making his return is Michael Fassbender (Alien: Covenant) as Magneto, who has managed to make such a mark on this character in the past that it’s impossible to think of anyone else in the role (aside from Ian McKellen). He does a grand job in this instalment. His motivation is clear as ever, but he takes a back seat for most of the events, which works best for this story.

Surprisingly taking a central role this time around is Beast, played by Nicholas Hoult (Tolkien). He has done some fine work with the character over the years, and this is easily his best to date, however, the problems come from the direction of the character. What happens is completely understandable, but certain decisions the character makes are questionable.

With this being an ensemble piece, the rest of the X-Men do get glanced over, but all at least get a moment to shine. Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) have pivotal roles to play but don’t get enough to do. Storm (Alexandra Shipp) is fine, Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is underused, and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is just like Beast, making some questionable decisions, especially during the final act.

A blonde Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game) also makes her presence known as a mysterious character looking to use Jean’s power for evil. She is certainly menacing, but doesn’t add anything to the story, even though she is meant to bring out the darker side to Jean’s personality.

The movie is the second adaptation of the iconic Marvel Comics storyline ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’, with the first being X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). The movie wisely focuses completely on the Phoenix story and introduces a more cosmic side to the X-Franchise which helps distinguish this form the other outings.

The story is good for the most part, sticking to a smaller scale film like Logan (2017) and Deadpool (2016), and focusing more on the characters. That being said, this film has the potential to be much bigger and would have benefited from it. At times it almost feels like the film is building to something else, which makes sense considering this was originally rumoured to be a two part movie, but with Disney acquiring 20th Century Fox, that is incredibly unlikely.

And yet again, the X-Men continuity is all over the place. The finale of X-Men: Apocalypse set the stage for an epic showdown, but those events are largely ignored, nor even referenced, which can be frustrating for fans of the series.

In contrast to the past, Dark Phoenix is much more focused on the drama between the characters, rather than powers or how many mutants can appear. It works well for the story they are trying to tell, but at time it feels joyless and could have used a few more fun scenes to liven the events up.

That being said, this is Simon Kinberg’s directorial debut after spending many years writing for this franchise. The action can be great, with the final act being the highlight, but it feels like a different movie in contrast to the drama from act one and two.

The effects are incredible as always, with the X-Jet and, of course, the Phoenix looking great. The effects do feel slightly restricted compared to the Bryan Singer films, with no stand-out moments like Nightcrawler in X-Men 2 (2003) and Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). It would have been nice to see more of the X-Men doing what they do best or even good look at a full fiery Phoenix, but this isn’t that kind of movie.

Making a surprise return to the superhero genre is Hans Zimmer, who composed the wonderful soundtrack. He does away with the established theme and instead creates an almost ethereal theme, reminiscent of Man of Steel (2013) and Interstellar (2014), that really enhances the movie. It sounds incredible and it’s well worth a listen to.

This is intended to be the final X-Men movie from 20th Century Fox, and it may be, considering the many setbacks for The New Mutants (2019). It doesn’t feel like the end of a 19-year old franchise. It is a shame that the X-Men series bows out like this, but looking to the future, at least we have Marvel Studios primed to start something new.

Overall, this isn’t the satisfying conclusion that many fans were hoping for. The acting is great, the music is great and the effects are brilliant as ever, but the emotion and connection to the characters just isn’t there. It’s still entertaining, but it could have been a much bigger, better and more epic movie.

Purple Revolver rating: 3/5. Disappointing, but still entertaining.