Saturday, June 8, 2019

Dark Phoenix


Becoming celebrities in their own right, the X-Men have become the go-to defenders of choice by the US government, much to the delight of Professor X (James McAvoy) who has always envisioned a world where mutants are accepted with open arms instead of reviled. When a group of astronauts are trapped in a life-threatening space station fiasco, a team spearheaded by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) flies to space to save them. There, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is engulfed by a mysterious entity known as the Phoenix Force. Evading death, she returns to Earth as a different person: more daring, more powerful, and seemingly hungry for destruction. As her newly amplified powers unleash a force that threatens her loved ones, she turns to Magneto (Michael Fassbender) for guidance, but is turned away due to her suddenly sinister behavior. Enter Vuk (Jessica Chastain), a mysterious alien who poses as a friend but really desires the power of the Phoenix Force for herself.

When Fox’s X-Men universe was first rebooted, each installment felt like an acting showcase for each of its lead characters: First Class was McAvoy’s; Days of Future Past was Lawrence’s; and say what you want about Apocalypse’s make-up making him look like a back-up dancer in a Cher music video, but that one was definitely Fassbender’s. Dark Phoenix feels like a turnover of sorts, from one generation of rebooted characters to the next. And then the Disney merger and the reshoots happened. Tragic. Just tragic.

It's strange because the Dark Phoenix storyline is just so rich and arguably among the most popular in X-Men lore, but Hollywood can’t seem to get it right. You’d think that a second chance would do the trick, but it just doesn’t. Even the cartoon version in Uncanny X-Men tackled the story arc better. But can anything be possibly worse than X-Men: The Last Stand? Apparently, yes. At least that rendition made you feel like there was a lot at stake. Dark Phoenix is just so boring and devoid of gravitas.

It feels like the beginning of a new trilogy that abruptly came to an end, for logistical and legal reasons perhaps. The MCU does not seem to be open to the idea of welcoming these mutants into their universe. The X-Men are going to be rebooted once again, so this feels like a drastic attempt for one last hurrah. Instead of ending it with a bang, though, the material feels like a rushed project churned out just to finish everything once and for all. It feels uninspired and the plot is just all over the place.

As the start of a new trilogy it would have worked because they would have had a sequel to fix everything but as the end of a franchise, Logan actually did a better job. It should have ended there, to be honest. A lot of people blame Kinberg for all of this, and maybe they have a reason to. He wrote The Last Stand, after all. There wouldn’t have been a better director to helm a reimagining of that storyline and avoid the pitfalls they already had there, but there seems to be no effort here.

In the end, the better alternative would have been to just stream this as an exclusive on Disney+, but then again what’s done is done. It just sucks because the X-Men started this whole superhero resurgence in the early 2000’s. It’s a pity to see them bow down this way. If anything, at least the actors can now move on to more challenging ventures. McAvoy, Fassbender, and Lawrence in particular seem to have had enough, and it shows. As for Turner, she is young and Hollywood should have more in store for her.

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