X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) — Dark times for the franchise indeed

“You’re always sorry, Charles, and there’s always a speech. And nobody cares anymore.”

Justin’s rating: Where’s that Jubilee spin-off movie already?

Justin’s review: The X-Men is a difficult movie franchise to follow as a fan, from its convoluted timeline to its inconsistent quality. While there are stellar entries, there’s never been a focused effort to make it all fit together. Instead, we get a series that’s kludged together with different ideas and characters (sometimes multiple versions of the same characters) and directorial styles. It’s a mess, and I don’t think anyone’s going to fight me for saying so.

And all of that… kludginess… makes it harder than it should be to just let go and enjoy what should be a fun and somewhat mindless superhero film. Just as Jean Grey can’t seem to shut off her increasing powers here, it’s hard to shut off that voice in your head that tells you this could all be handled a whole lot better.

Anyway. Dark Phoenix. Drawn from one of X-Men’s most famous comic book story arcs, this was prime material to get the series back on track after the lackluster Apocalypse. Maybe it was more of a Hail Mary, a desperate clutch at a storyline that the series had done once already (in X-Men: The Last Stand, if you’ve forgotten). However, the whole effort was a famous mess, with a two-year post-production period, sequels that were canceled, and a box office that told Hollywood that maybe it was time the X-Men should be shelved.

At least it starts promising, with the X-Men performing a daring space rescue of a shuttle being blasted by a cosmic storm. Drink it up, because that’s the most fun and levity that you’re going to get as a viewer for the next two hours. This, if nothing else, rankles me the most, because it showed me a glimpse of a balanced mix of special effects, humor, characterization, and teamwork.

That balance is instantly thrown off when Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbs more than the FDA recommendation of cosmic rays and finds her powers and instability ratcheted up considerably. She starts raging and freaking out, driving both Xavier’s and Magneto’s groups to have to figure out how to deal with her.

Boy, this film gets depressing in a hurry. I get that it’s not the most lighthearted of sagas, but there’s no subtlety here in how it’s handled. Jennifer Lawrence is downright irritating for how unlikable and negative she is (at least, before she ejects from this film with a “wHEEeee imma giant MOvie stAR!”), Turner can’t really handle being thrust into the central spotlight for this kind of tale, and everyone makes Professor X out to be the bad guy. Doesn’t help his case that his defense is, “But you’ve got to LISTEN to me! I can HELP you!” repeated over and over again.

With the whole cast speaking in clichés and being angry with each other, viewers are thrust into an uncomfortable (and unimaginative) destruction of the series. Any characters you’ve liked before, any accomplishments you’ve cheered, any hopes that X-Men was building toward something amazing… it’s all taken away in just two hours. That’s economical!

Then again, this film finally adds Dazzler, so that balances everything out. 10/10 best picture of the year.

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