Dark Phoenix is akin to an athlete, long past his/her prime, attempting to mount one last hurrah. It evokes more a sense of sympathy and sorrow watching what was once a great franchise descend to such a sorry state. While nowhere near as bad as X-Men: The Last Stand or perhaps Apocalypse, Dark Phoenix is more of a slog than a horror where you can see just about everyone counting down to the end of their contractual obligations.
Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is forever haunted by how she inadvertently caused the deaths of her parents back in 1975. She has lived at the special school her guardian Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) founded for those once called 'mutants', beings with special powers. Jean, however, has used her powers for good, especially now as she joins a mission in space to rescue stranded astronauts.
Also going up are Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), her on/off-again boyfriend Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and three younger X-Men: Kurt/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McGee), Peter/Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Jean's boyfriend Scott/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan). The mission goes well but Jean is caught in what appears as a massive space storm, affecting her powers.
Back on Earth, she finds herself still emotionally and physically tormented, more so when she discovers that her father is still alive and not dead like Charles mind-planted in her that he was. She, now as Phoenix, goes on some kind of rampage, a pawn in the scheme of Vuk (Jessica Chastain), leader of otherworldly beings who will use Jean to take over the world.
Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is also roped into the proceedings, culminating in an informal battle between Charles and Erik's mutants over Jean, then united to save her from Vuk and her minions.
I don't think I or anyone else can figure out the loopy logic of the X-Men franchise, particularly in terms of character ages. If we went by the films, Magneto would be somewhere in his 60s when the events of Dark Phoenix take place, but he looks pretty much like he did when First Class took place.
I'm not so hung up on details to not understand that Michael Fassbender is not going to massively age in eight years, but at a certain point, again if you follow the series, it does start looking rather implausible to downright ridiculous to see these characters not age even though the films keep moving things about a decade a film. Yet I digress.
Dark Phoenix flounders because everyone looks and acts rather bored, as if they would rather be anywhere but here and are just going through the motions. Lawrence is the worst offender in this department, clearly showing she thinks that not only is this a waste of her time but far beneath her. Even when spouting off some proto-feminist declarations about how Charles should change the name to "X-Women" given how women keep saving them, there is a rote manner to her delivery.
Few people look as bored as Mystique does when she dies. I think she agreed to be in the film with the understanding Mystique would be killed to ensure she would never have to come back. Fassbender at least has the excuse that Magneto was totally irrelevant to the plot so he could coast through this for the paycheck. Lawrence, however, has no excuse, and her appearance shows off her total contempt for all this.
To be fair however everyone looked just so disinterested in the proceedings. Some, like Sheridan and Smit-McGee, attempted to compensate by either speaking fast or widening their eyes. Others, like Chastain, went the opposite route and decided monotone speaking and blank stares would do.
Turner was pretty much disastrous as our lead. I assume she can act, but Dark Phoenix gives no evidence that she can. Whether it's showing her love for Cyclops, her sense of betrayal by Xavier, her oddball request from Magneto for mentorship, facing off against Vuk or regret at having killed Mystique not once did Turner's voice or expression change.
The fault cannot rest on the actors alone. No matter how talented a cast (and to be fair McAvoy, Fassbender, Hoult and Sheridan are strong actors), the fault lies squarely at writer/director Simon Kinberg. There was not one moment in Dark Phoenix that was exciting or interesting, not one scene that evoked any emotion other than boredom, not one character I cared about.
In short, Dark Phoenix is surprisingly boring. There is no way around it: Dark Phoenix is boring. Everything about it is boring: the story, the performances, the action sequences, the characters.
This is a sorry way to end this version of the X-Men universe. I still hold that X-Men and X2: X-Men United are among the best comic-book based films made. I've also warmed to X-Men: First Class and have positive memories of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Now the X-Men will soon find themselves part of the world's longest and most expensive soap opera, also known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
At this point, just like everyone involved with Dark Phoenix, I'm beyond caring.
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