Action Adventure

Review: ‘Dark Phoenix’ Barely Rises Above Mediocrity

June 5, 2019Ben MK

Originally published in 1980 and written by John Byrne and Chris Claremont, the 10-issue Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the X-Men's most iconic and memorable comic book arcs. With that in mind, could a 2-hour film possibly do justice to this classic story?

The year is 1975, and after her psychic powers trigger a car accident that claims the life of her mother, an 8-year-old Jean Grey (Summer Fontana) is taken under the wing of Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), who enrols her in his school for gifted youngsters. Fast forward 17 years, and a 25-year-old Jean (Sophie Turner) now holds a key role as one of the members of the X-Men. But when things go awry on a mission to rescue the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour from a solar storm, the mutant superheroes find themselves fighting against their former teammate, rather than alongside her.

So goes the latest installment in the long-running X-Men series, Dark Phoenix, a movie that's billed as the team's final battle. Of course, just how accurate that description proves to be remains to be seen. However, if this is indeed the conclusion of the franchise as we know it, then it's fair to say that it leaves something to be desired.

Despite an impressive cast that includes Jessica Chastain as the leader of a group of aliens who arrive on Earth with the intention of harnessing Jean's powers to serve their own villainous agenda, the film never quite manages to captivate. In many ways, the cast — which also sees Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters and Kodi Smit-McPhee reprising their respective roles as Mystique, Magneto, Beast, Cyclops, Storm, Quicksilver and Nightcrawler — seems to only exist as a means of furthering the pace-challenged plot, not to mention getting the movie from set-piece to set-piece.

Speaking of which, viewers expecting the blockbuster spectacle of X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse will surely find Dark Phoenix's action sequences too few and far between. Instead, Simon Kinberg, who steps up to the role of both writer and director this time around (after producing the last 3 X-Men films), has chosen to keep the story more character-focused, with diminishing results. That said, what action beats the movie does give us are nonetheless well-executed, with the highlights being the fateful space mission that earns Jean the Phoenix moniker, as well as a climactic mutant-versus-alien confrontation set aboard a high-speed train.

Unfortunately, it's still not enough to elevate the outcome into the upper echelons of the franchise's ranks. Like Sophie Turner's other gig, Game of Thrones (which garnered some of its lowest-ratings in its eighth and final season), Dark Phoenix ends up being something of a dark spot on the X-Men series, casting a shadow on an otherwise stellar run of recent sequels and barely rising above mediocrity itself.

Dark Phoenix releases June 7th, 2019 from 20th Century Fox. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 53 min.

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