Monday, June 10, 2019

Review: "Dark Phoenix" feels like the first X-Men movie that is phoning it in

Dark Phoenix Review
Just in case anybody didn't know, there is a re-release of "X3: The Last Stand" in theaters right now!

Wait, what?

If there is one big ticket franchise that has been moving forward in a very weird way, its been the "X-Men" franchise. You can almost compare it to the James Bond movies of the 1960s through the 1990's. Each movie seems to beat to sound of their own drum. No matter what they do, continuity doesn't seem to be a factor in the storytelling at all, and if you think about the continuity of the franchise for too long, you will give yourself a migraine. It was a franchise with a difficult birth. Fox studio head Tom Rothman tried tooth and nail to bury the franchise at every turn. He didn't believe it would make money, so he tried to torpedo it immediately to save face. The thing was, the franchise did catch on. It was one of the key ingredients we needed to really get the superhero movie culture we are living in today.

The X-Men are my favorites. I've always had such a deep love for the characters. They are my favorite of the Marvel stable, and I hope that says something, because I prefer Marvel to DC. I love these characters, I loved them growing up. I continue to enjoy X1 and X2. X3 is a mediocre effort, there is some silliness to it, but some parts are okay. I would rather not talk about "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." New life was breathed into the franchise with "X-Men: First Class." I really liked "The Wolverine" and "Days of Future Past." I thought "Apocalypse" was decent, not bad and not good, decent. The "Deadpool" movies are great, but they are on an entirely different wavelength. Overall, its been a fun series. 

This leads us to "Dark Phoenix," the last mainstream X-Men movie in the Fox franchise. Yes, we are getting one more spin-off, so this is essentially it. Just as I feared, its essentially a remake of X3. Do you guys remember X3? The X-Men movie from 2006? It told a half-assed Dark Phoenix Saga adaptation, the biggest problem was that major story was shoehorned into another story. Like I said, there are some things I like and some fun in it, but its mostly a mess to get through. "Dark Phoenix" may have an entire runtime to itself and it doesn't really have to share itself with another story. But it's essentially a remake of X3.

I mean, here's just a quick list of similarities. Jean Grey acquires strong powers as a child. Jean Grey meets Charles Xavier. Xavier takes young Jean Grey to his mutant school. He puts mental blocks into her head to keep her from using her power. Her powers get unlocked. Some major characters die. She seeks help from Magneto. She gets manipulated by a greater evil. She turns a bunch of people into molecules. Heck, even the set during the final fight in "Dark Phoenix" looks eerily like the set from "X3." Its like they didn't even try to do anything different.

This new movie follows the comic books just a little bit better, and maybe that will make comic fans happy. But the movie as a whole is burdened with the feeling of "been there, done that" and it almost makes the movie slightly embarrassing. Jennifer Lawrence seems like she's been phoning it in as Mystique since "Apocalypse." and she comes off mostly bored in this movie. Plus, she gets a big SJW line that is shockingly bad. If you thought the A-Force reference in "Avengers: Endgame" was bad and forced (I'd personally disagree with you) just wait until you hear the name change Mystique suggests. I was a fan of Sophie Turner on "Game of Thrones" but here, much like Lawrence, she seems bored by the whole thing. Tye Sheridan  has always come off as a blank and while it slightly worked for him in "Ready Player One," he never really comes off like Cyclops, but maybe a Cyclops impersonator.

There are a couple of performances that stand out. James McAvoy is still a convincing Professor X as is Micheal Fassbender as Magneto. Fassbender has crafted a performances so canny that I feel like he's set a new definition of the character, separate from Sir Ian McKellen's. Nicholas Hoult is still a striking Beast, and still pours plenty of emotion into his character. Evan Peters once again has some great moments as Quicksilver, but he's knocked out of the movie fairly early. That's a damn shame, he stole two movies and the thanks he gets is getting sidelined for this entire movie. Plus, the hint that maybe Magneto and Quicksilver are related is totally dropped here. Alexandra Shipp does a nice accent and newcomer Jessica Chastaine was apparently told to just stare glumly at the camera and blankly blurt out dialogue.

The special effects are about as standard as they come for X-Men movies and I have always dug that there was a certain look to the spectacle of these characters that separated itself from the MCU. After so many superhero movies, and after each of these movies creating fantastic superhero scenes (and some mind-numbing superhero scenes) "Dark Phoenix" is oddly normal looking. Like every other X-Men movie, some characters are given no traits to play with and just show up to simply show off their powers. It never quite hits the epic feeling it so strongly wants to.

Some fans have been wry of X-Men going back to Disney, but perhaps that might be a good thing. Fox had a decent run, no doubt about it. We certainly owe Fox as fans our thanks for really helping turn the tide on the attitude toward superhero movie, because we wouldn't be in the golden age we are in now if we did. But all good things must come to an end, and telling from "Dark Phoenix," the train may be coming into the station one last time.

FINAL GRADE: C-

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