If at first you don’t succeed, try and fail again. Dark Phoenix is the 12th feature in the X-Men universe. It continues the significant dip in quality that we witnessed in predecessor X-Men: Apocalypse. While it’s not necessarily worse, the mystique of this franchise was pierced last time around and the bloodshed continues here. We also have Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique and, like in Apocalypse, it seems she’d rather be elsewhere.
Like 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, this is focused on Jean Grey’s origin story. A 1975 flashback shows how she became an orphan and it’s got a lot to do with her telekinetic mutant powers. We already know that Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) quickly brought her into School for Gifted Youngsters after a tragedy and she grows up to be played by Sophie Turner. By 1992, Jean’s abilities are accentuated in outer space while rescuing a group of astronauts with her colleagues. It also triggers some repressed memories, putting her at odds with her mentor. That’s not the only collateral damage from Jean’s galactic adventures. An alien race known as the D’Bari had their planet inadvertently destroyed by this particular gifted youngster. Jessica Chastain is Vuk, an extra-terrestrial leader looking to harness those gifts for her own use. Like Oscar Isaac in Apocalypse, Chastain represents another talented performer wasted in a forgettable villain role.
While X-Men: First Class had cheeky fun with its 60s setting and Days of Future Past grooved to a 70s vibe, Phoenix does nothing with the early 90s time frame (other than not aging the actors appropriately). Even Apocalypse tried to capitalize on the 80s retro craze.
Missed opportunities to dwell on a decade and boring baddies aren’t the worst problem. Jean Grey isn’t a compelling character in her own film and Turner’s bland acting shines that light brighter. When Michael Fassbender shows up from time to time, it’s a reminder that his island getaway and small army of followers might offer up a cooler storyline. I know that comic book lovers hold the Dark Phoenix Saga in high regard, but they’e been given the short shrift twice now. Maybe Fassbender, his effortless magnetism, and the backstory of his current circumstances might have more firepower.
This is Simon Kinberg’s first at bat directing the series. He is responsible for writing The Last Stand so he’s .000 with the Grey matter. I guess he’s .250 on his X screenplays as he also penned Apocalypse but had a hit with Days of Future Past. Some of the violent encounters are dimly presented and plenty of the CG is subpar. A final set piece aboard a train has the most competent technical work and random moments of effective action. That doesn’t come close to saving this. The X-Men have been off the rails for two movies in a row.
** (out of four)