“Dark Phoenix” is supposed to be the X-Men finale before Disney takes over the franchise. Written, directed and produced by Simon Kinberg, the result is an embarrassing movie that is undeserving of this series’ best moments. Hell, it may very well be the worst X-men movie ever made, even more excruciating than the infamously bad “X-Men: The Last Stand.”
And so, if this “adaptation” of Claremont/Byrne/Austin’s “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” which, oddly enough, was also used by Brett Ratner in ‘Last Stand,’ is very faithful to the comics, its execution is rather tepid. Concentrating the core of its action on Jean Grey, Kingberg’s movie starts off in 1975, as a young Grey sits in the backseat of her parents’ car and, much like in “Shazam!,” has her, as-of-then, unbeknownst powers causing a fatal accident.
Jumping forward two decades after the car wreck, the movie has the X-Men going to space to save an isolated shuttle. However, trouble comes when a solar flare whiplashes them, but, hey, here comes Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), using her powers to save the day. Problem is, as Jean played hero, she also happened to absorb the Phoenix Force, which fills her with a possessive darkness that has her attacking her X-Men comrades. The rest of the movie has Jean being chased by both governmental authorities, the X-Men and an alien race called the D’Bari, led by a white-haired and miscast Jessica Chastain. The latter want Jean to get a hold of the precious Phoenix powers she got from the solar flare mashup.
If you plan on making Jean a central character in your story then you better have a talented actress playing her, but Sophie Turner is a bad fit. When well-cast, the 23-year-old “Game of Thrones” actress can deliver what is needed for a director, but she just doesn’t have the magnetic screen presence to keep us invested in her part of the story here. It doesn’t help that Kinberg’s screenplay is filled with poorly written dialogue, especially an abundance of on-the-nose exposition. Even the experienced actors that appear throughout the proceedings, like James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, barely escape their scenes unscathed. Then there’s Jennifer Lawrence, an actress I absolutely adore, who may as well be giving the worst performance of her career in this movie.
Much of the blame, however, must go to Kinberg. A career-built screenwriter until someone had the misguided idea of giving him directing duties with this film, Kinberg’s screenwriting filmography already included infamous bombs such as “XXX: State of the Union,” “Jumper,” “This Means War,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” and “Fantastic Four.” Yikes. The lack of directing experience also shows, even the few action sequences in the movie are rendered in comatose-inducing ways. Even when some kind of excitement does arrive in its last act, as the X-Men batte D’Bari on a train, there is no flow to the directing or editing, it’s all inanely splattered on-screen with a total lack of cohesiveness. In fact, the film feels like a straight-to-DVD affair more than a theatrical event.
2000’s “X-Men” launched the big budget superhero movie trend almost twenty years ago, and the “Dark Phoenix” ending does have a sweetly rendered tribute to Charles and Erik, but the rest of the movie lacks that old playful spirit, forsaking the past for a dubiously kitschy final installment.
As it stands, Bryan Singer directed the best X-Men movie; 2003’s “X2,” (with his 2014 “X-Men: Days of Future Past” not too far behind). [D]