One star out of four.
With “Dark Phoenix,” the X-Men franchise attempts to right the wrongs of 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand.”
The film retells the Dark Phoenix saga from the X-Men comics in which one of their own, Jean Grey, gets out-of-control powers. Yet again, the film fails — and the narrative should never have been resurrected in the first place.
In this version, Jean (Sophie Turner) gets infected during an X-Men space mission with a powerful force that is never fully explained to the audience. This force really kicks in when her emotions get out of control. From there, Jean follows the predictable course of “I can’t control myself, which endangers the people I love, so I’m going to isolate myself to protect them even though it makes me more emotionally unstable.”
Jean’s self-inflicted timeout leads her to the film’s villain (Jessica Chastain, whose character name is rarely used). The baddie wants the power that is in Jean and tries to manipulate her.
If that wasn’t bad enough, now the X-Men are after Jean too. Some want to kill her — I’m looking at you Magneto (Michael Fassbender) — and others, like Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), still see the good in her.
Despite all the things that seem to be going on in this movie, nothing really happens. The first hour of the film is devoted to everyone deciding what they’re going to do. Everything in the film — from the plot, to the characters, to the script — needs to be better developed. It has no substance to it, nothing holding it together.
It’s a shame too, because “Dark Phoenix” has an A-list cast. Two-time Oscar nominee Chastain should be able to pull off an evil villain like it’s nothing. However, her character, which is some kind of alien, acts more like a robot. She’s monotone in emotion, voice and movement. She gets little screen time, appearing in about five scenes, so you forget she’s even there. A superhero’s story has to have a villain, but without a good bad guy, there’s no conflict, and without conflict, no story.
Chastain isn’t the only one struggling. McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence and Turner can’t seem to catch a break either. Their performances come off as tired, static and stale as month-old croutons.
The problems with the plot and acting all stem from the same source: the script. Simon Kinberg, director and screenwriter for the film (who also wrote “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “X-Men: Apocalypse”), struggles to find any sense of direction for the story and the characters. Early on, Kinberg plops in a few cheesy one-liners that fade as the film takes on a more serious tone. That tone then gives way to predictable cliched dialogue about redemption, loyalty and world domination.
I love the X-Men and have been a faithful fan for the whole ride, starting with “X-Men” in 2000. Knowing this could be the last film for Fox’s X-Men franchise because of the merger with Disney, I was really hoping it would end with a bang. Instead, it concluded with a huge bomb.
The entire film feels like it was made because it was required, not because anyone wanted to make it. Someone along the way said, “Hey why don’t we do another X-Men?” and some executive said, “Eh, why not?” and threw some money around to make it happen. Instead of the X-Men, it should be the Y-Men, as in, why should you care at all?