Thursday, June 6, 2019

X-Men: Dark Phoenix - The Last Stand (Really This Time)

Abandoning any further attempts to reconnect with the original timeline in Bryan Singer's X-Men, Dark Phoenix offers Sony a second chance at the "Dark Phoenix Saga," so thoroughly botched in X-Men: The Last Stand. Set in the early 1990s where the X-Men have gone from outcasts to national heroes, the film centers around Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner as X-Man Jean Grey struggling to deal with new powers after exposure to a cosmic entity that overwhelms her personality and breaks down walls in her mind meant to hide traumatic events.

Dark Phoenix clears the lowest bar fairly easily, it's better than X-Men: The Last Stand. Then again, so is a lukewarm Diet Coke. While Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and James McAvoy are all holdovers from X-Men: First Class, the film primarily focuses on Jean Grey who was only introduced in (the mostly forgettable) X-Men: Apocalypse forcing fans to think back to Famke Janssen's performance to have any real connection to the character. It doesn't help that Jean's main relationships in the film are with the bland Tye Sheridan as the boyfriend with which she shares no on-screen chemistry or Professor X (McAvoy) in full-on asshole mode for most of the film.

I believe writer/director Simon Kinberg was shooting for epic with the by-the-book formula punctuated with large CGI fight sequences, but the film comes off more inconsistent and only mildly diverting. As with Apocalypse, the film does deliver some memorable individual character moments and extended fight sequences, but cannot quite sell the overall plot to the audience. Jessica Chastain doesn't add much to the preceding (other than eliciting unintentional laughter form the audience) as the leader of a shape-shifting alien race hiding on Earth (not Skrulls, more like B-movie knock-offs) who have their own interest in the comic power Jean now controls. Thankfully Michael Fassbender returns to add some gravitas to the proceedings (though his near-death escape at one point is some of the laziest writing of the entire series). Evan Peters also returns to be under-utilized in yet another X-Men film by stealing nearly every scene he appears in.

The plot is fairly straightforward. Hell, it is laid out by Professor X himself early in the film as Jean becomes the one domino to fall and shatter the hard-earned respect the X-Men have been able to forge with the United States Government and acceptance as heroes rather than freaks by the American people. As Jean struggles to deal with emotions and powers she can't control, she is hunted by friend and foe alike, along with the shape-shifting aliens who really want the power she has (but haven't thought through how they might contain it or control her). The movie is highlighted by an extended fight sequence that showcases several characters' powers but also leaves the audience hanging as the "last" X-Men film ends with the future of X-Men and all mutants very much in doubt. While there isn't enough here for me to recommend, some hardcore X-Men fans may be able to look past the films flaws and find some fleeting enjoyment in its action and the fan-bait it brings to bear (it even includes a Dazzler cameo).

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