Dark Phoenix -review (Netflix)

   I want to be objective. Hatred for a person you’ve never met or even seen in interview is probably unwarranted. Can you really dislike a person that you’re not even sure what they look like? Human emotion is a strange thing and, as I ask myself these questions, I am trying to be rational. Let me explain. 

     I am a comic book movie fan. In my youth, I collected comics for many years but, even before that I loved Spider-Man on television and the Christopher Reeves Superman films. When Tim Burton’s Batman came out, I was all in, even as the quality of that initial Batman franchise diminished. 

    Truthfully though, I was always more of a Marvel fanboy, specifically, the X-men. I collected the entire Chris Claremont run. All of it. The same run that gave the world the Phoenix Saga. Even before that, before the New X-men, which the Phoenix Saga was part of, I was an X-man fan.

    So obviously, when the first X-men film came out, I was there. Bryan Singer’s first two films were brilliant. They were not comic canon, with definitely some artistic licence taken, but they were better than expected and, under Fox, had no challenge from the future juggernaut that would be the MCU. 

    I have watched every one of the X-men films under Fox, even the god-awful, The Last Stand. The Last Stand was written by Simon Kinberg, the same man who helms and wrote the final instalment in the X-men series under Fox, Dark Phoenix. Predominantly a producer, Kinberg has been involved with the franchise since the risible The Last Stand. 

    So, with that in mind, and my unreasonable disdain for him, how was Dark Phoenix? Not terrible. With all the rumours that surrounded production and the less than secret news that the X-men was going to be under the umbrella of the MCU and Kevin Feige’s Midas touch post-film, Dark Phoenix had a lot to battle against. 

    Unfortunately, most of the issues created in Dark Phoenix are due to previous decisions in the series and poor casting choices and a weak script. The film needed the audience to be invested in the characters, but due to poor decisions, the dominance of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine over the franchise and the underwritten roles of every other character since the second X-men film, you just do not care about any of the protagonists. 

    Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops is woeful. Horribly served in the previous films, Sheridan struggles valiantly to create a history between him and Sophie Turner’s statuesque Jean Grey, a history that previous films barely hinted at. That is just the begin of the problems with this story. 

    Rightly, the film does not follow the comics. Instead, like over at the MCU, it tries to take some elements and blend them into a new and, hopefully, engaging story. What Fox and Kinberg have got wholly wrong is trying to truncate the story and elicit emotion for characters nobody knows. 

   Logan, the best superhero movie ever made (it’s my blog, so my opinion. Fight me), works because we know the character of Logan/Wolverine. Obviously, the consistency of having the same actor portray the character has helped, but Logan would have worked even after the second X-men film because we knew the character. We do not know the X-men. 

    Sophie Turner is beautiful, absolutely stunning. A statuesque, imposing visual presence. She is completely wrong for the film. Her performance is completely committed and would have been brilliant had she been even partially well served in the previous films. She was not. 

    When an actor is portraying a well-known character, unless they have been allowed to make that character their own, in say the way various actors have made James Bond their own, a viewer will always compare the character to the original source material. 

     Jean Grey in the comics is not an imposing presence, not physically. She is intelligent and powerful, even more so when she gains the Phoenix power, but not an Amazonian presence. Turner is Amazonian. She makes Sheridan look like a young boy, and she towers over Jessica Chastain’s power seeking, body stealing alien, Vuk, even though she is wearing heels. Like Famke Jansen before her, Turner is simply too much of a presence as Jean Grey. 

     Alexandra Shipp, like Halle Berry before her, is completely wasted in the film. With no real character interactions, she is basically in the film for her undoubtedly stunning looks, to make up the numbers and as someone to utilise special effects through. If she had not been in the film, she would not have been missed. 

    Evan Peters’ Quicksilver is quickly – haha! – dispatched in the film, his leg broken in the first fight and Jennifer Lawerence’s Mystique, who is a villain in the comics – a villain! – gets killed by Jean early on, giving Michael Fassbender’s Magneto a reason to get involved in proceedings.

    The acting is, as one would expect with the talent on show, top draw, with everyone trying desperately to breathe life into a script that is almost Man of Steel Goyer-esque in its blandness. With the decision to dismiss the character most likely to bring levity – Quicksilver – early in the film, Dark Phoenix pushes miserably through its hour and fifty-four minute runtime, fraught faces and tense music aplenty. 

   There is a strand early in the film, which matches up with the comics, where Jean, shortly after gaining the Phoenix power is extremely thirsty, almost as a nod to her furnace like appetite, created by having to harness so much power. It does not go anywhere. 

   In the comics, the power is such that she consumes a planet. In the film, the Phoenix power consumes Vuk’s planet and she follows the power through space and witnesses Jean absorbing it. Following her back to Earth, Vuk and other survivor’s of her world decide to manipulate Jean to take over the Earth. Yes, that is their plan. 

   Like I said earlier in the article, the biggest negative in the film is you just do not care. Outside of the super beings and aliens, nobody seems in imminent danger. It is like watching a disaster happening on the other side of the world. You care on a humane level, but once you turn the television you forget about it. 

    Fox made the mistake of chasing money and competing, instead of trying to create the best product they could. With the final X-men film in Dark Phoenix, they bow out of the superhero game with a whimper. Such a pity.   



The Darkness Should Come Later

    The final X-Men film under Twentieth Century Fox films will be released early in June before the rights to the characters are absorbed into the MCU juggernaut. Simon Kinberg gets a final chance to erase the debacle that was The Last Stand. Kinberg wrote The Last Stand, with directing duties going to Brett Ratner. 

    With Ratner now persona non grata in Hollywood, and director of X-Men Apocalypse, Bryan Singer, heading in the same direction as Ratner, it fell to Kinberg to make his directorial debut in a series he has been involved with since the risible Last Stand.    

    Though he has many writing credits, Kinberg is predominantly known as a producer. Of the films he is credited with writing, one could say that the results have been mixed. Of the better films he has been involved with – Days Of Future Past, Apocalypse  – he has written the screenplay from another person’s story.

     On Dark Phoenix, not only is he producing and directing, but he has also written the story and screenplay. For those who do not know and look to IMDB, the names credited with the story – Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Dave Cockburn, wrote the original, staggeringly brilliant comic story, The Dark Phoenix Saga.

    That story was a complex web, involving Mastermind, a mutant who manipulated what a person could see and was part of the Hellfire Club, a band of mutants who want to gain vast power, both political and financial. The Hellfire Club was somewhat bastardised for the film, X-men – First Class. 

    In the comics, Jean Grey, who would become Phoenix and then Dark Phoenix, was at one point living a dual reality as Mastermind, aided by a device from mutant telepath Emma Frost, had her believing she was a member of high society in the eighteenth century.

    Her confusion and struggle to wield the cosmic Phoenix power resulted in her committing a heinous act and attracting the attention of the Shi’ar Empire and forcing a standoff between the X-men and the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. 

   The X-men lose and Jean, realising her unlimited power could be a danger to all that she held dear, commits suicide. 

    Unlike the MCU’s carefully mapped out, cleverly structured over-arcing story leading to the highly anticipated Avengers Endgame, the X-men films have been a mishmash of loosely connected films with varying quality.  

    I am not averse to films deviating from the source material, especially when it comes to comics. To make an exact replica of a comic is a little pointless. It is simply animating something you would have already seen.

    Watchmen faithfully follows Alan Moore’s comic of the same name. It is as though the comic was used as a storyboard for the film. Unfortunately, because it so rigidly follows the comic, it is somewhat lacklustre.

    The MCU has made some adjustments to characters from the comics, mostly when it comes to the costumes and for the sake of the story. For the most part, the elements that are, for the comic book fans, important, have been kept. Over at Twentieth Century Fox with the X-men, there was no such consideration.

    Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine has always been the best and most popular character in the X-men franchise. Jackman should never have been considered for the role, as the character in the comics is five-foot-three, compared to Jackman’s six-two. 

   It is a credit to Jackman’s commitment to the role – especially in the phenomenal Logan – that comic book fans embraced him to such a degree that him giving up the role has left a big hole for some actor to fill. 

     The ignoring of one of Marvel’s most popular character’s height is a minor grievance compared to the litany of mistakes and ‘artistic’ decisions that have been made in the X-men cinematic universe under Twentieth Century Fox.

   The characters of Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman and Marvel Girl, who formed the original X-men, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963, were interesting, fleshed out, plucky teenagers. With the exception of Jackman and Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy who played old and young versions of Charles Xavier/Professor X respectively, and Ian McKellan and Michael Fassbender, who portrayed old and young Magneto, the other characters have been poorly represented in the franchise. 

   I will go and see Dark Phoenix, even though I’m not filled with joy at the prospect. Perhaps Kinberg will do what James Mangold did and follow an awful film, The Wolverine, with a modern-day classic, Logan. I can only hope.