The X-Men franchise is in a strange place right now, with the Disney/Fox merger it has become apparent that the franchise is coming to an end, right when they’d reintroduced a lot of the original X-Men that we saw back in 2000.
Writer and director Simon Kinberg has resurrected one of the classic X-Men comics storylines, ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’ from 1980, where Jean Grey is overtaken by a mysterious cosmic force that makes her incredibly powerful and a danger to the rest of the X-Men, a storyline we already saw adapted in 2007’s The Last Stand. One of the big issues with Kinberg returning to the Dark Phoenix arc is that this is the culmination of Jean and Cyclops’ story in the comics, and these new iterations have only appeared as minor characters in the previous installment, Apocalypse. To Kinberg’s credit he does try and do a good amount of time in Dark Phoenix to establish Jean’s character, but instead of Cyclops the film focuses on a more father and daughter between Jean and Charles Xavier, the leader of the X-Men.
And whilst Kinberg managed to alleviate that concern the rest of Dark Phoenix just doesn’t do it. On the whole everything about Dark Phoenix is just so forgettable, even the usually reliable James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender don’t feel at their usual level, but rather they’re just sleepwalking through the film. Jennifer Lawrence was checked out of these films long ago, and of the younger actors only Sophie Turner really stands out as the one actor who is given some interesting material to work with as Jean struggles to cope once she absorbs the phoenix force.
And whilst there is some work given to making Jean a more fleshed out character, the alien storyline with the group of D’Bari who come to Earth and hope to manipulate the phoenix force is not. We learn very little about them, and their end goals are incredibly unclear, meaning that they just aren’t interesting. And that is just indicative of the film as a whole, it’s dull. We’ve seen Dark Phoenix done before, and what is new doesn’t work. When you all that up the only people more bored than the actors themselves will be the audience.
Whilst we hoped that Fox’s X-Men franchise could go out on a high in the end it just fades out in a big pile of mediocrity. Dark Phoenix isn’t the worst film in the franchise, it is certainly a big step up from The Last Stand however it ends up being around the same level of quality as Apocalypse, and that certainly won’t be where they wanted to go out.