Thu, 20 Jun 2019
X-Men: Dark Phoenix (12A)
Running time 1hr 53 min
DARK Phoenix – the much-awaited conclusion to the X-Men prequel trilogy – was either going to be a Last Stand or a Logan. The former made for a most blunted finale to the landmark original trilogy; the latter, which served to retire Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, was a mutant masterpiece, packing the sort of unexpected emotional oomph that’s liable to reduce grown men to tears.
The stakes were high with this new film, which promised to shed some light upon Jean Grey’s becoming the ‘Dark Phoenix’, a trauma that has haunted the X-Men over the course of the entire series. Regrettably, it’s not a Last Stand – it’s actually quite a bit worse, a muddled, nonsensical and half-baked epilogue which, in its infinite clumsiness, allows the hype to slip through its fingers. Frankly, this critic would be pressed to recommend it to even hardened fans of the franchise, who’ll find their dreams crushed under the weight of its sheer, unadulterated indolence – around an hour in, the actual film takes a backseat, allowing some seriously soulless CGI to take the wheel. Newcomers will merely feel themselves cheated.
In case you were hoping this installment would illuminate the mystery of the eponymous Phoenix: here be monsters. Jean (played by Sophie Turner) is possessed by a malevolent force after an incident in space; said force’s precise nature is barely interrogated, but Jessica Chastain’s evil extraterrestrial wants it. In effect, the Phoenix functions as an excuse for a succession of telekinetic action sequences, each one shoddier and less gratifying than the last. As a film school SFX showcase, it might’ve worked; as the climax to a saga which prides itself upon multidimensional characterisation and narrative complexity, the whole thing leaves a poor taste in the mouth. James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier remains an alluring screen presence and this story sees him take a dark turn. There’s space here for a more ambiguous treatment of the character than we’ve seen before, and McAvoy gives his all, evoking an ornate sense of ominousness. Unfortunately, the screenplay addresses his fall from grace with about as much nuance and attention to character detail as it employs in negotiating the central thread – we’re supposed to just go along with the fact that he’s, well, basically a nasty piece of work. Having ascended to the status of fan favourite on the back of his antics in previous films, Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is granted shockingly little screen time. The same is true of Magneto (Michael Fassbender), whose appearance here barely registers – roping a performer of Fassbender’s calibre into this mess will go down as one of the most egregious wastes in movie history.
Is Dark Phoenix insufferable? It’s not, and that’s largely due to its bite-sized runtime (somehow, we’ve found a superhero flick that’s – gasp – less than two hours in length). Unlike the (truly excruciating) disasterpieces DC has taken to churning on a bimonthly basis, the film casually floats by on a cloud comprised of air-headed monologues and overwrought set-piece battles. It’s undoubtedly tripe, then, but tripe of the most refreshingly forgettable order. Moreover, it offers a stark illustration of the depths to which the X-Men brand has sunk. These films formed the nucleus of one of the first ‘modern’ superhero franchises; until Marvel came into its own, one could always turn to Xavier et al for a cape-and-funny-hat cinema of an altogether grittier, more dramatically sophisticated ilk. Dark Phoenix sou nds the death knell for this promise, once and for all.