The X-Men film ‘Dark Phoenix’ runs through story too quickly to make an impact.
Kernel Rating: 2.5 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 113 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 12+. This latest X-Men film includes recognizable elements from previous franchise installments, including fights and battles between various X-Men, humans, and other creatures, many of which end in characters dying by being crushed, being electrocuted, being thrown off trains, and impaled, among other methods. Some infrequent cursing, including one use of the f-word; some kissing, declarations of love, and romantic tension between various characters; a devastating car accident that occurs in slow-motion and ends in death; and the recurring X-Men themes about being an outsider and living in isolation.
By Roxana Hadadi
The X-Men film “Dark Phoenix” is the end of an era, as the production of these films will transfer in the future to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; we may soon see Professor X, Magneto, and other X-Men characters in “Avengers” films. With that impending transition, “Dark Phoenix” must conclude various storylines in a satisfying way, and that’s a little tricky given how often these new films such as “First Class,” “Days of Future Past,” and “Apocalypse” have messed with timelines and character motivations. There are strong action set pieces here, but for the most part, “Dark Phoenix” chews through story so quickly that the narrative ultimately lacks impact.
“Dark Phoenix” picks up some decades after the preceding films (inconsistently, some characters have aged and some haven’t), in the early 1990s. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is still teaching “special” students at his school and also serving as the leader of the X-Men, who step in to help save mankind when humans can’t do it. With a direct line to the president, Xavier is more famous than ever, and so are the members of the team, including his sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), her one-time boyfriend Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and younger members Peter/Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Ororo/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Scott/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Kurt/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner).
But a mission in space goes awry when a mysterious force, some sort of glowing purple and red alien mass, infects Jean’s body, taking up residence inside of her. Whatever immense power it has comes out when Jean Grey becomes upset, and when she learns of a secret from her childhood that puts into question everything Charles told her about her history, she begins to lose control.
Eventually, Jean will become the film’s titular “Dark Phoenix,” and before then, she tries to figure out who she is, returning to figures from her past and Charles’s onetime friend and now nemesis, Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), for answers. And along the way, she’s followed by a mysterious figure, Vuk (Jessica Chastain), who wants the power inside Jean for herself and for a plan that might lead to the end of the world.
To truly care about Jean Grey, viewers will have to remember what happened in the preceding X-Men films, and it’s unfortunate that this franchise has been unable to maintain long-term consistency. Without it, all of the trauma we see Jean uncover, and the violence that she is unable to control, fail to make much impact. “Dark Phoenix” would have worked better as a two-part film, with a narrative that had enough time to breathe; without that length, the plot moves along far too quickly. And although Turner vacillates well between fragility and anger, her character is shortchanged by the format of the film and the need to tell her story in under two hours.
Still, the action scenes are done quite well; although they seem more violent than the preceding X-Men films, a sequence on a train highlights all the characters’ powers excitingly. There are some cringe-worthy moments (in particular, a line of dialogue from Raven’s Lawrence that feels like pandering to our current cultural moment rather than truly honoring it); the villains’ motivations are never that clear; and the threat of the end of that world falls flat. And as a conclusion to this series of X-Men stories, the greatest flaw of “Dark Phoenix” is a too-swift telling of a narrative that should have had more time to develop.
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