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.