Geek Culture

Geek Review – X-Men: Dark Phoenix

The X-Men saga is one of those film franchises that has really been through quite the ride. From the stylised-but-so-so first trilogy of X-Men films directed by Bryan Singer in the early 2000s, to the more successful soft reboot kickstarted by X-Men: First Class back in 2011.

Nearly twenty years has passed, and it is somewhat bittersweet knowing that the series will, in a way, come to a close as 20th Century Fox was bought over by industry moguls Disney in unifying the Marvel IPs under one banner. In that light, X-Men: Dark Phoenix holds the unique position of being a film caught in that transition.

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix tells the tale of the titular family of mutants encountering and struggling to deal with the cosmic entity known as the Phoenix Force as it inhabits the body of one of their most powerful members: Jean Grey.

Picking up shortly after the events of X-Men: Apocalypse, the world has seen peace between the mutants and the regular humans, with the X-Men at the heart of that peace. However, one bad day for the X-Men in the form of Jean Grey getting possessed by the Phoenix Force in a freak accident in space caused those relations to quickly sour, as Jean Grey struggles to contain the powerful entity that now inhabits her body.

The story is a constant juggling act between the macro (relationship between mutants and humans) and the micro (Jean Grey’s relationship with the X-Men and her personal struggles), and director Simon Kinberg succeeds in conveying both aspects rather well, especially for the first two thirds.

While the conflict centres around an otherworldly force threatening to end all life on Earth, a lot of the emotional weight is concentrated in the personal, more human moments and scenes. Kinberg knows when to make the audience feel for characters, especially when we’ve grown attached to them since First Class. However, unlike its predecessors, Dark Phoenix is more grim in tone throughout, lacking much of that occasional but noticeable Marvel charm and wit we’ve grown accustomed to.

Despite the generally morbid tone in Dark Phoenix, the actors definitely put on some of their best performances as mutants in the franchise’s swansong film. Or at least they attempt to.

Sophie Turner’s experience on Game of Thrones certainly helped elevate her powerful performances as the central Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix (after this, no one will remember Famke Janssen’s stiff portrayal as Jean Grey pre-First Class, sadly). James McAvoy delivers yet again as Charles Xavier/Professor X, this time ditching the goody two-shoes persona and conveying a more nuanced, morally-grey side to the brilliant mutant. Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult as Raven/Mystique and Hank McCoy/Beast respectively come up with some of the most heart-wrenching performances yet.

The original First Class cast and Jean Grey were amazing in their own right, but not everyone managed to get a standout performance, either due to just being miscast or a script issue.

X-Men newcomer Jessica Chastain as the enigmatic Vuk is largely awkward and out of sorts in a rather rigid performance — a shame, given her critical success in the likes of Zero Dark Thirty and Interstellar. Michael Fassbender always brings on the steely stage presence as Erik Lensherr/Magneto, but this time his typically emotionally-charged portrayal as the Master of Metal is a little muted with a lack of proper incentive given to him to take the fight to the Dark Phoenix. Tye Sheridan’s Scott Summers/Cyclops is another that suffers from a lack of fleshed-out writing; we as an audience weren’t given enough time to get attached to Cyclops’ romantic relationship with Jean Grey, unlike the one in the Singer movies. What should’ve been one of the most iconic Marvel relationships hasn’t been done justice in this iteration.

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Pacing issues also hinder what would’ve been an otherwise enjoyable ride for Dark Phoenix. The first two thirds of the film seem alright, but when it came to the rising action with the infighting among the X-Men over the fate of Jean Grey, to the balls-to-the-walls confrontation at the climax, it all seemed a little rushed. Yes, we were treated to some of the best fight scenes in all of X-Men, but both the audience and the characters themselves weren’t given enough time to take the aftermath in. For a sendoff to the beloved Fox film series, it felt a little like the end of Game of Thrones, with how abruptly it ended like that.

What did do justice to what should be an epic conclusion to the saga is the music. Like a talented mutant himself, Hans Zimmer brought his musical expertise and signature intense orchestra swells to score this film — a first for the X-Men franchise, and to great effect.

The increased budget and advancements in production technology allow more recent films like Dark Phoenix to look more visually impressive, especially during fight scenes. 19 years is a world of difference in the effects department, making the likes of the original X-Men Singer films look like high-school visual effects projects. That said, however, the cinematography in some fight scenes can be a little too shaky for our eyes to follow, especially when some of them were shot in the night.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is truly a bittersweet end to the two-decade-long film franchise by Fox. While it doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Avengers: Endgame, we feel you still shouldn’t give this a miss, especially if you’ve been following the franchise all this while. Just like how we felt the loss of Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine at the end of Logan, we now will feel the same pain of possibly not seeing this youthful and energetic cast of X-Men once Disney and Marvel Studios take the X-Men IP under their wing.

But of course, one can hope that Disney can pull a fast one on us and bring this stellar cast to the MCU — just like a certain Phoenix rising from the ashes.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

Despite several flaws in pacing and visual storytelling, X-Men: Dark Phoenix serves as a bittersweet sendoff to 20th Century Fox’s talented cast of Marvel’s iconic family of mutants.

Overall
7.4/10
7.4/10
  • Story - 6.5/10
    6.5/10
  • Direction - 8/10
    8/10
  • Characterisation - 7/10
    7/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 8/10
    8/10
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User Review
3.5 (2 votes)


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