Grim Farewell- X-Men: Dark Phoenix [2019]

19-06-2019 09:06

It really looks like this is the end of the First Class run of the X-Men franchise. There aren’t many who were introduced in the reboot back in 2011 that are still on screen in this instalment, the fourth go-around. Writer and first-time director Simon Kinberg takes a second shot at the Dark Phoenix Saga hitting some familiar beats. That alone makes it questionable if we needed to revisit this.

Then again, X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) didn’t quite burn up the screens nor excite many fans of the cinematic saga. In both cases, Bryan Singer has taken a pass, although there may have been other circumstances this time. Singer was showing some fatigue on X-Men: Apocalypse (2016). In all honesty, I can barely remember what happened in that movie, but didn’t they already hint at Jean’s Phoenix power at the end of that one? So why was the Phoenix power an external force here, absorbed by Jean (Sophie Turner) in the opening Space rescue sequence.

Still, much of the first half dwells on the sins of the past, particularly those of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) in dealing with the young Jean, and Jean dealing with a tragic event. There is more, but I’m trying not to delve into story points without giving away too much. At least they’re not forcing the Phoenix story into a different story the way The Last Stand coopted the Proteus Saga.

Despite having the regular First Class cast of McAvoy, Micheal Fassbender, Nicolas Hoult and Jennifer Lawrence putting in their appearances, the movie belongs to Sophie Turner bringing a different depth to Jean Grey and her emotional journey here. She does really well here while the younger cast members (from Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops to Alexandra Shipp’s Storm) appear to go through the motions, worrying about their team-mate and grimacing through the fights. Evan Peters’ Quicksilver disappears half-way through the movie after putting in show-stopping moments in the last two entries. Kinberg tries to replicate those moments as well, but not quite as successfully.

Even Jessica Chastain feels underused, her alien Vuk being the emotionless, stoic manipulator to turn Jean to becoming the titular Dark Phoenix. They both don’t quite get there. Her motives are quite different than what you’d might expect, but we need a somewhat tough bunch for our merry mutants to do battle with for the finale.

Kinberg’s direction feels serviceable to the story. There are some beautifully designed scenes; the space sequence comes to mind. But still, the structure feels a little flat, particularly the street fight. Yet, the finale is nicely designed with a solid display of action choreography and nice use of the mobile location. Basically, there is an unevenness but also a display of a director finding his assured handling of his own material and the cast. His use of extreme close-ups are a bit of a distraction tho.

Still, the grim atmosphere and mostly dour tone permeating through much of the first half cripples the movie a little for that duration. Yet, it’s also where we have those heavy character moments, particularly for McAvoy and Turner. It’s hard to know if the story could have been a little more cosmic like in the comics as one might hope. Especially given how the other Marvel movies have ventured lately.

Instead, the X-Men remain grounded albeit in an oddly altered reality we might be unfamiliar with. Mutants are mostly accepted in this world, and Jean’s evolution threatens that fragile peace, however it came about. As a conclusion tho, I suppose it is sufficiently satisfactory although I think it all peaked with Days of Future Past (2014). That was a pretty good conclusion… even if we finally get Dazzler (Halston Sage) here, albeit briefly.

Finally, further securing its conclusion aspect, there is no tag post credits teasing any new instalments.

Rating:  /5

Directed by Simon Kinberg
     Written by Simon Kinberg

Stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Kodi Smith-McPhee, with Scott Shepherd, Jessica Chastain, and Jennifer Lawrence

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