Dark Phoenix (Film Review)

Dark Phoenix is the latest and last (?) X-Men film by Twentieth Century Fox. Written, directed and produced by Simon Kinberg, who has in the past written/produced some of the good Fox Marvel films (X-Men Days of Future Past, Deadpool, Deadpool 2, X-Men First Class, Logan) and some of the bad (X-Men The Last Stand, Fantastic Four, X-Men Apocalypse). Fox is still releasing New Mutants next year, which I believe is the official last X-Men related film by Fox. But for the sake of argument, let us consider Dark Phoenix as the last since it is the last one with the main and central characters. Since Disney bought out Fox earlier this year the future of X-Men and it’s Mutants are uncertain. From the information I gathered online, Marvel Studios will let Fox continue with the projects already in production and sometime in the near future (5-7 years?) the MCU will incorporate X-Men and Fantastic Four into its massive universe. To which I am really excited about, but I do feel sad saying bye to James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor X and Magneto respectively. These two started their own separate timeline version of the X-Men back in 2011 and we got to love them and grow with them. Of course this goodbye is still not as heart wrenching as my goodbye to Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart in 2017 after Logan, that was an end of an era, Dark Phoenix is an end of an error.

Director Simon Kinberg and Michael Fassbender on the set of Dark Phoenix.

Before I dive into Dark Phoenix let me just say that I do not blame the cast, they honestly seemed to do the best they could with what was given to them.
Hans Zimmer‘s (Lion King, Gladiator, Dark Knight Trilogy, Sherlock Holmes, Inception, 12 Years a Slave, Interstellar, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk) original score is probably the best thing about Dark Phoenix, he captures the scenes with beautiful music throughout. The cinematography by Mauro Fiore (Avatar, Training Day) for the film was fine, nothing groundbreaking but i’m glad they didn’t try to do a shaky cam effect for the action sequences. Lee Smith‘s (Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk) editing was good as usual.
If you look at the cast and crew as a whole, this movie should have worked on paper. The composer, the cinematographer and the editor are all Academy Award winning people in their respective fields. So why is Dark Phoenix such a mixed bag of boredom and overall unsatisfying cinema? Well for one all these men are technical and artistic craftsmen who have no control over the structure of the story. Secondly (and I hate to do this) I have to blame Kinberg for not handling his first feature film correctly. Maybe it was pressure from the studio or maybe he just couldn’t handle it, but this film should have been co-written along with someone more skilled and directed by a more seasoned individual. Kinberg’s best writing work has never been solo, his best work came when he co-wrote with other writers. Maybe that aspect of bouncing ideas back and forth would have been beneficial for Dark Phoenix. I don’t even blame Kinberg’s direction specifically, even though this is his directorial debut, he did a pretty average job with it. But for a franchise of 19 years and fans like me, we deserve better than “average.” I do however fully blame Kinberg’s handling of the script and overall story, plus the entire confusion and post-production hell that ensued after. It saddens me that a film with a great cast and a team of brilliant individuals in their respective field were part of a film that didn’t feel like a final product.

The first and second act of the film are extremely slow paced with uneven motivations of characters. The third act was apparently reshot, because originally what they shot in 2017 failed with test audiences and was too similar to “another film.” It was basically a space battle with an alien race, so they decided to reshoot the entire third act in 2018/19 to change things around. Honestly I am glad they did because the third act of the film is the best part. It actually feels exciting and we get to see many mutants use their powers in a stylized action sequence. In fact all the action sequences (the 2 that are there in the first and second act) felt grounded and well choreographed. However I had hoped to see more of Quicksilver do his famous slow motion sequence, he was a wasted character as was Jessica Chastain as the once named and forgettable villain. There are some redeeming qualities in this film but not enough to save it from itself. This is the second time that Fox has tried to adapt the Dark Phoenix Saga from the comic books and I had hoped that the second time around would have been better. It might just be better but ever so slightly. You cannot have the man who wrote X-Men The Last Stand’s dark phoenix adaptation to come and write this film and expect different results. Maybe people expected him to learn from his mistakes with his script in 2006, but the problem is that he made a whole bunch of new mistakes in 2019.

Rating:
I am giving Dark Phoenix a 6.5 out of 10.
Not in the pool of the best or worst X-Men films but rather in the pool of average and increasingly disappointing superhero films. A superhero film that will truly test the patience of an average viewer, but a film with certain redeeming qualities for hardcore fans looking to be optimistic towards a beloved franchise.
The X-Men film franchise started in 2000 and was one of the first superhero franchises that I got emotionally invested in. Two thirds of my life I have followed and loved the X-Men films, it is a sad day that this is the way they chose to go out, with a sizzle rather than a bang. The ultimate ending of the X-Men franchise for a fan like myself will always be X-Men: Days of Future Past and Logan.

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