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Dark Phoenix


There’s a temptation to lament the idea that the reason “everybody knows” that Dark Phoenix is the most pointless, disposable, nobody-needs-to-bother major release of the year not because it’s poorly made or tells a bad story but because “everybody knows” that the franchise future has already been cut off. Is the word “X-Men” not even in the title because Disney would like that much more of a head start on everyone forgetting there were ever X-Men movies before the reboot they’re inevitably going to make in however many years? It’s not great that audience foreknowledge of corporate copyright litigation is now part of the general metanarrative.

It’s also a poorly made film telling a bad story that we’ve already seen told badly once before.

If the gamble was that people couldn’t possibly hate this more than they hated X-Men: The Last Stand’s version of the “Dark Phoenix” storyline, all the association serves to do is constantly remind one of how much the original crop of actors are missed. All the scenes that approach being good end up instead engendering a familiar nostalgia for the early-2000s X-Men movies. “Wow, that thread being tied-up might’ve actually meant something if these were versions of people I sort of remember caring about!”

As concerns the plot: It’s now the ‘90s, everyone loves mutants and the X-Men are famous because they stopped Purple Oscar Isaac from destroying the world with a magic pyramid. (Or whatever it was that happened in X-Men: Apocalypse. Don’t pretend you watched it more than once, either.) Now they do superhero missions for the government because Professor X has a direct line to the President. He’s even getting kind of cocky about it in a “Check out the dude who solved Civil Rights by proving an oppressed minority can also be superheroes and don’t you dare point out how troublingly utilitarian the moral pretense of this franchise looks in 2019” sort of way.

This leads him to agree to a mission that finds the current team rescuing stranded astronauts from an outer-space energy storm. The storm nearly kills Jean Grey but also super-charges her with unstable kicked-up powers. It also unlocks a bunch of traumatic childhood memories Xavier had mindwiped away for therapeutic purposes under not-entirely-honest circumstances. (Yeah, weíre doing that again …) This sends Jean off on a Carrie-by-way-of-Dragon Ball violence spree under the influence of Jessica Chastain who plays a shape-shifting evil alien queen who wants to steal the power for herself.

Oh yeah. There are aliens in this. That also happens.

Dark Phoenix is a poorly made film telling a bad story that we’ve already seen told badly once before.

If it sounds like the aliens come out of nowhere, that’s because they do. The filmmakers remain as hamstrung as ever by the unfortunate fact that the most famous X-Men story from the comics is a giant space opera tied to a bunch of continuity nonsense from the “cosmic” Marvel Comics Universe. They remembered that everyone was mad about the lack of outer space business in The Last Stand so they found a way to shove them in somewhere.

Supposedly part of the massive, near-total reshoots that delayed the film in the first place was removing an expensive space-set climax that would’ve been too similar to a different unnamed recent superhero movie. But even if it wasn’t an open secret that the film has been almost totally re-shot at least twice to hammer a workable film out of it, the troubled production is obvious if you can stay awake long enough to notice it. The aliens are the most egregious element. It’s clear they were at one point meant to be a version of the Skrulls before Marvel Studios gained control of those characters and used them in Captain Marvel. It also seems like they might’ve tried to write them out entirely at some point as Chastain’s weird performance often feels staged, almost like she’s playing some Tyler Durden-esque representation of Jean’s unconscious mind instead of a whole other character. She’s always standing just to the side, the other actors largely don’t acknowledge her, etc.


The alien villains otherwise — rechristened the D’Bari, which is a fairly baffling reference in this context — are generic and mostly just look like random super-strong people for the X-Men to toss around in a handful of dull fights. Those fights are occasionally enlivened for a moment by clever power-use scenes but not much else. There’s some elaborate but often slapdash CGI working hard to hide the fact that most of the action is happening in drab locations, and a wall-to-wall score trying even harder to add emotional resonance to bide the time. (Those expecting any big twists or standout moments will go home wanting. Neither Wolverine, Deadpool or some hint of anyone being Infinity Stone-snapped into the Multiverse are to be found.)

Is it too much to ask that this be the underwhelming and unnecessary franchise blockbuster we just skip because we know it’s not going anywhere? We know ahead of time it’s over. The reboot is already in the offing so why even bother? You can do literally anything else but pay money for this.

About the author

Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.