Following Hugh Jackman’s final tenure as the Wolverine in Logan, the X-Men series finally comes to its own end by directly adapting the Dark Phoenix Saga – if the title wouldn’t already give that away. But even as a story of this sort would have had so much potential given what the X-Men have always stood for in their long run on the big screen, Dark Phoenix doesn’t even feel engaged with its own story to feel like there’s any sense of closure coming about. It doesn’t even feel like it was made to be a proper ending to this series with Disney having acquired Fox as a means of getting the rights to include the X-Men into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For his directorial debut, it doesn’t even seem Simon Kinberg was even prepared to give this an ending and thus he tried to make Dark Phoenix too many things all at once but there was never a point in time when it ever felt like it were on its way to adding up properly. It doesn’t have anything to answer now that it’s all come to a finish, but it’s not quite the disaster it could have been with all the constant reshoots pushing the film back over and over again.
The Dark Phoenix saga starts off fittingly with seeing a young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) accidentally unleashing her telekinetic powers out of her own control, to which Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) takes interest in allowing her to harness her potential. Now grown up, and she takes on a rescue mission in space where Jean Grey ends up absorbing a sort of solar flare that makes her even more powerful and more unstable. As she starts learning more secrets about her own past, her pain starts to take on another form as the other X-Men try to help her before the control over her own powers ends up getting into the wrong hands. There’s an interesting film that could be made out of a concept much like this, because the Dark Phoenix Saga is a story that many who have read the X-Men comics would already be familiar with. But in trying to directly adapt that story for the big screen as a means of sending off the whole X-Men series, Kinberg doesn’t quite stick the landing and never really offers much resolution afterwards.
Sophie Turner is fantastic as Jean Grey, and while it’s nice to see a whole narrative circled around what’s happening to her, it’s a shame that she also seems to have so little to work with. For most of the film, so much of the cast also feels really phoned in to the point it’s hard to really gel with the material at hand. Even the more entertaining members of the bunch, whether they be Michael Fassbender or James McAvoy have so little to offer in their roles to the point it almost feels like the film has been undermining everything that they have managed to accomplish in their own tenure with the series. There’s not all that much to say about everyone else here because at most their actions only ever really feel inconsequential, but the pitiful waste of Jessica Chastain as the villain is also one among many things that went wrong, for every moment she appears onscreen as a means of sending a warning to Jean Grey doesn’t ever make her feel any more threatening. There’s a great movie that could be made with the cast that’s assembled here, but so many of the big players never really feel like they leave all that much impact because they all seem to have so little connections back and forth.
Everything that went wrong with X-Men: The Last Stand’s own influences from the Dark Phoenix saga isn’t improved upon by that much in the eyes of Simon Kinberg, but it seems that he has a clearer idea of how big he wants the film to feel. Yet under his direction it’s a little too clear where his lack of experience with taking on the task of directing is coming in, because it can’t even seem committed to building up the stakes surrounding everything that Phoenix has been going through. It seems to think action can dictate all of this, but all of it ever really seems sloppy. It’s sloppy in the sense that the action doesn’t ever feel like there’s any tension as we move from one scene to the next, but when the film seems to have so little to care about Phoenix’s newfound powers. Though it also happens to be brought down by awful gender politics not only in its ham-fisted attempts at feminism (the X-Women scene being the cherry on top of the cream), all showing it has zero understanding as to what made these women so impactful throughout the series. Presenting itself as a feminist narrative doesn’t work when it fails at creating an organic narrative, but looking at it as lip service makes it more of a disservice, it’s condescending.
Now that the X-Men series has met its own end, what are we supposed to have made of the whole journey? There was never a moment in Dark Phoenix that ever really felt like it would add more dimensions to the characters we already knew. There was never a moment in Dark Phoenix that ever really felt like it was set to conclude a saga of such a great scale. Sure, some of the action looks neat enough to balance out every moment of boredom you’d have to endure from everyone having so little to do, but that about sums up what Dark Phoenix is like. There just seems to be so little care in an arc of this sort because no one ever really feels like they belong. What’s even more saddening is the fact that the Dark Phoenix Saga should already be interesting enough for a feature film, but Simon Kinberg doesn’t ever allow any of that to live up to whatever potential it has. Instead, you have so many unrealized ideas laid out on the table but at least it tries to build up the stakes by slowly killing off characters nonchalantly, right? Everyone here had potential to be something greater, but at this point we’re probably never going to see what could have been either.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via 20th Century Fox.
Directed by Simon Kinberg
Screenplay by Simon Kinberg, from the X-Men comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and the comic Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Dave Cockrum
Produced by Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner
Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain
Release Date: June 7, 2019
Running Time: 114 minutes