Dark Phoenix

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

Dark Phoenix
dir-scr Simon Kinberg
prd Lauren Shuler Donner, Simon Kinberg, Todd Hallowell, Hutch Parker
with James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters,Scott Shepherd, Ato Essandoh
release US/UK 7.Jun.19
19/US Fox 1h53

mcavoy fassbender lawrence
See also:
Apocalypse (2016) New Mutants (2020)

chastain and turner
There's an intriguing story at the core of this fourth chapter in the X-Men: First Class cycle, but filmmaker Simon Kinberg never unpacks any nuance from either the established characters or the explosive situations. Some tinkering with the franchise timeline may also annoy fans. The movie is watchable, but it bogs down in mopey melodrama while marginalising the action to choppy night-time mayhem.
After a 1992 space rescue takes an inexplicable turn, Jean (Turner) is left with fiery, uncontrollable new powers. Professor Xavier (McAvoy) tries to help her, as do her mutant friends Raven, Hank and Scott (Lawrence, Hoult and Sheridan), but Jean goes rogue, causing violent chaos even as she reaches out to Eric (Fassbender) for help. She's also being pursued by an alien in human form (Chastain) who knows the source and potential of Jean's new energy force. And now the X-team is divided, with some wanting to help Jean, and others wanting her dead.
The script stays resolutely in the realm of the blindingly obvious, with the only thematic element being the way Xavier tinkered with the truth, lying to Jean when she was a child. This history exacerbates her new impulse-control problems, which feels rather random. Meanwhile, the platinum-haired, otherworldly Chastain glides through scenes uttering mumbo jumbo about how Jean's new unlimited power can create or destroy worlds, as if that makes it desirable. In other words, there's no point at which the audience can get involved in what's going on.

The main acting challenge in this film is to coax a single tear down a trembling cheek, and most actors get to do this along the way. Oddly, Turner has the most thankless role in this sense, never given much to do with the character. At least the gifted cast members add subtext in the most simplistic scenes, providing a few moments of interest. But without any sense of momentum in the story, no one emerges as a standout, mainly because all are weighed down by the hushed, over-serious dialog.

The film is efficiently put together, but never feels original. Action sequences are jarring, violent and largely inexplicable (why does Eric raise a New York Subway carriage through the street?), and everything happens at night, including the cliched climax on a train, which culminates at yet another smouldering apocalyptic wasteland. The best films in this franchise were fresh and original, with layers of thematic meaning and powerful resonance. By contrast, Kinberg settles for a basic blockbuster.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 7.Jun.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall