I had so many conflicting feelings while watching “Dark Phoenix,” the latest (and thankfully last) installment of 20th Century Fox’s woefully inconsistent adaptations of Marvel’s mutant superheroes. There were moments of frustration at watching this low-rent take on one of comic’s most tragic stories. And there are moments of pure hilarity at some of the ridiculous choices made throughout the movie.
First off, I want to apologize to Kevin Feige. After enduring “Dark Phoenix,” it’s as if I need to travel back in time via the quantum realm and give every single Marvel Studios movie an extra star. The fact Marvel Studios continues to make average movies are an act of genius when compared to warm, wet garbage like “Dark Phoenix,” “Venom” and the recent “Hellboy” reboot.
This is less a piece of entertainment and more a contractual obligation to everyone involved. It’s lazy in a way few multi-million dollar blockbusters achieve. There is genuine A-list talent withering away in awful, formulaic, lowest-common-denominator blockbusters. I sat in the theater feeling sorry for Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Nicholas Hoult—actual sympathy for super-talented, privileged millionaires for having to waste their time and skills on something so bereft of quality.
We meet the mutant X-Men having some success cohabitating with mortals playing the roles of superheroes. For the first time, these outcasts are now in the spotlight and generally revered by the public. It pleases Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) who believes the key to mutant/human relations relies on strong public perception, which means at times putting his students in harm’s way. One such life-threatening mission involves flying into space to recover some wayward astronauts. During the rescue, Jean Grey (Sansa Stark … I mean Sophie Turner) ends up absorbing a mysterious space energy and begins to transform into something more menacing.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the basic set up of “Dark Phoenix.” Writer and director Simon Kinberg takes the basic fundamentals of the comic-book story and finds some engaging potential. I like the basic conflict within the group. Some believe risking their lives to try and better integrate with humanity is a fool’s errand. Professor Xavier is so obsessed with the image and perception of his school and superhuman heroes, he begins to see them as expendable allies in a public relations battle. Unfortunately, these lofty goals are lost in a blender of bland, as the story unfolds about an uninspired villain (Jessica Chastain), several pointless action set pieces, and a hackneyed third act that feels like a waste of the premise. For some reason, superhero movies have to always end up with some monster fight sequence, even though some of the best movies in the X-Men franchise have avoided such clichés.
This is one of the few movies that couldn’t be saved by an exceptional cast. Even the great Michael Fassbender struggles to elevate the material. There’s a great scene in the middle of the movie that beautifully illustrates how wasted the actors’ talents are. Magneto (Fassbender) and Jean Grey are fighting to control a military helicopter with their powers, which involves a lot of gesturing and grunting. At one point Fassbender is trying to convey the difficulty he’s having by locking his neck and arms, and screaming loudly while bugging out his eyes. The moment is so intense and ludicrous, it ends up looking like he’s trying to force himself to climax, using only the power of his mind. There are a half-dozen unintentionally hilarious moments in this movie that will make the viewing experience more enjoyable. It also will leave audiences questioning the creative choices of everyone involved.
“X-Men: Dark Phoenix” is ultimately just another wasted opportunity that seems to happen to a lot of comic book movies that don’t have the words “Marvel Studios” before the title. There’s an added level of narrative incompetence and goofiness that makes the film more akin to a lame duck than a phoenix.