I’m a hardcore fan of the original “X-Men” films. You know, the ones starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. I’ve seen the original “X-Men” — which came out 19 years ago, by the way — more times than I can count. I loved that film and “X2.”
When 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” came out, I was skeptical, but I was willing to give it a chance. And, it was fantastic. It rebooted a series I loved. (There are a few exceptions: “X-Men: The Last Stand,” I’m looking at you.) Matthew Vaughn’s vision of a younger version of the characters I’d grown to love was perfect. And then they released 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” and my feelings started waning. The third installment, “X-Men: Apocalypse,” came out in 2016 and thoroughly stomped on the warm, fuzzy feelings I’d developed for “First Class.” Since that 2011 masterpiece, the series has gone downhill.
This brings me to “Dark Phoenix.” I’ll admit I was intrigued by the trailers, although the film’s marketing campaign was a bit ridiculous. Seriously, don’t spoil the fact a main character dies, then try to take it back. The film wraps up the reboot’s series, and since I’d been burned two out of three times, I didn’t have high expectations. Considering the fact there were only 30-35 people in the theater on Friday’s opening night, I imagine a lot of other folks didn’t either.
“Dark Phoenix” takes on the classic X-Men storyline of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), a stalwart in the X-Men universe, who is taken over by a cosmic force that makes her one of the most powerful beings ever. Turner and other newbies like Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) were introduced in “Apocalypse.” I think. Honestly, I didn’t like the movie and only saw it once when it was released.
I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to phrase this, but I think I’m just going to have to say it: “Dark Phoenix” is boring. Ridiculously boring. Honestly, it’s quite possibly the worst of the new series. (Qualifier, nothing beats “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”)
I appreciate that many of you are “Game of Thrones” fans, like Steve Wildsmith who might very well cut this out of my column before it goes to press. I need to level with you, though. This might be hard to hear: Sophie Turner is boring to watch. Maybe it’s her directors. Maybe it’s the writers. Maybe it’s just the fact she has the acting chops of a wooden board. I’ll be honest and say I stopped watching GoT a couple of seasons ago, so Sansa may very well have grown into a force to be reckoned with. Jean Grey is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, though, and Turner is as imposing/threatening/interesting to watch as paint drying.
That’s not to say the film’s failure is completely her fault. Jennifer Lawrence (Raven/Mystique) has checked out of the “X-Men” franchise, and it’s quite obvious she’s only there for contractual obligations. My boyfriend argued the same could be said of Michael Fassbender (Magneto), but I choose to disagree.
James McAvoy (Professor X himself, Charles Xavier) is the actor I truly don’t understand. It appears at times like he’s also checked out, too. At other times, he appears to be the same actor who floored us in “First Class.” I’d have an answer for you if this movie wasn’t so incredibly painful to watch. Who can pinpoint whether it’s an acting, directing, editing or writing problem? Not me.
In order to explain how this one falls flat requires more detailed examinations of inexplicable plot developments that would spoil the story. I’m not going to do that to you, though. Suffice it to say, our mutants act out of character. They do things that run contrary to their established personalities and without credible motivations for these decisions. (They are “explained,” but it’s done in the most mechanical, ridiculous ways.) These issues are compounded by the fact that characters then do something contrary to these supposed “breakthroughs” less than 20 minutes later. It’s mind-boggling how a studio that knew only eight years ago how to tell these characters’ stories can’t even figure out why any of them are doing simple tasks like rescuing humans or serving as teachers. It’s like 20th Century Fox has suffered a corporate-wide head injury or something.
If nothing else sticks with you, avoid “Dark Phoenix.” At. All. Costs. Sure, it’s 20th Century Fox’s last Marvel production due to its acquisition by Disney. Any future X-Men films will be produced by Marvel Studios and will be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s safe to say that this property is clearly in need of public rehabilitation.