Dark Phoenix (2019)
The Dark Phoenix story was supposed to be the center of the conclusion of the original X-Men trilogy. Famously, X-Men: The Last Stand turned out to be a grand mess, with Bryan Singer, who had directed the first two X-Men films, leaving the third movie to direct Superman Returns. Ultimately it was directed by Brett Ratner, after Matthew Vaughn had to bow out for personal reasons. While there were some redeeming partsthe movie spent a good portion of its time killing off characters that had not been properly developed in the first two movies for dramatic effect, while having Jean Grey just walk around and cause general mayhem for Magneto until she was stopped by Wolverine.
The entire timeline was reset by X-Men: Days of Future Past when Singer returned to direct after Vaughn's X-Men: First Class helped revitalize the series. Despite being one of the best films in the series, it lead into the disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse, in which we are introduced to Jean Grey with Sophie Turner replacing Famke Janssen in the role. It was also Singer's last. Although he had a producer role in Dark Phoenix, it was removed after sexual assault allegations, which had dogged him for years and had been deemed false, suddenly turned out to have some weight. However, that wasn't the reason he left the directing up to someone else; like with The Last Stand, he had found something else he wanted to do more, and Apocalypse pretty much proved that he didn't have a Midas touch with the series after all.
There was one other link between The Last Stand and Dark Phoenix, other than the story. That is Simon Kinberg, who both wrote and directed this film. He also was one of the writers on The Last Stand, making it obvious that Ratner, though he bears a lot of the blame for how that movie turned out, was not solely at fault. Kinberg, now unshackled from both Singer and Ratner, seemingly would have been able to redeem the previous movie and give audiences what they had originally been promised 13 years before. Instead he managed to make things even worse.
Jean Grey comes to live with Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) at his school after the death of her parents. As a young adult she is one of the famous members of the X-Men, now all regarded as heroes for their roles in defeating En Sabah Nur, with most people no longer treating the Mutants as outcasts. That all changes in 1992 when, in an effort to save the crew of the space shuttle Endeavor, Grey absorbs the force of a supposed solar flare. Seemingly fine upon return, it soon awakens memories that Xavier suppressed in her to keep her powers under control.
Suddenly free, she decides to go on her own, eventually fleeing to an isolated island where Eric Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) and his group of mutants live. However, due to a fight with her former teammates, people have now become concerned that she, and many of the other Mutants, are once again a danger. Internment camps are again set up and the military tries to stop Grey. They are not the only ones after her; a group of aliens called the D'Barri want to use her to rebuild their empire, and their leader Vuk (Jessica Chastain) hopes to gain Jean's powers for herself.
Dark Phoenix quickly starts making some of the same mistakes as The Last Stand. Main characters are killed off or sidelined quickly, probably because the actors had someplace else to be. Everyone was only under contract to do three movies, and this fourth was largely as a favor. Still, both James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender seem willing to give it a go and try their best, just like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan did in Days of Future Past. This time there are also aliens wanting to use Jean Grey rather than Magneto trying to get revenge against humanity.
The problem is that there are never any major stakes here. Vuk is not a developed villain in any shape or form, while most of her compatriots are just faceless men and women that charge out of the dark to be killed. There are few surprises, with the whole script running on rails to connect a few action scenes. Supposedly Kinberg tried to make this more of a drama than an action film, but for that to work one has to care. Turner can't seem to care enough to stick with either an American or English accent, while McAvoy gamely tries to deal with the fact that Xavier is now a manipulative, egotistical jerk rather than a philanthropist. Jennifer Lawrence is back as Mystique just long enough to utter that terrible line about X-Women, while Evan Peters, after Quicksilver's major story arc in Apocalypse, barely lasts any longer.
Some of this can be blamed on Disney's buyout of 20th Century Fox and their desire to kill the X-Men franchise in order to absorb it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe at a later date, but there were understandably reshoots after the original ending didn't go over well and, while I hate the idea of ignorant test audiences guiding things, in this case it seemed the reactions were justified. Unfortunately, the ending we get is not that much better. As flawed as Apocalypse was there was never any need to revisit the Dark Phoenix story, especially helmed by one of the people who messed it up in the first place and with the studio not even wanting to put any money behind making it or advertising it. It was doomed to failure at the box office and, while not as terrible as its failure would make it out to be, it pretty much put the nail in the coffin for the X-Men for the foreseeable future.
Dark Phoenix (2019)
Time: 113 minutes
Starring: Sophie Turner, James McAvory, Michael Fassbender, Jessica Chastain
Director: Simon Kinberg
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