DARK PHOENIX (2019)
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Final film in Twentieth Century Fox’s X-Men series, as the rights have gone back to Marvel, finds psychically powerful Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) at the center of it’s story. The film opens in 1975 with an eight-year old Jean causing a tragic accident with her powers and being taken in, as a result, by Prof. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). The flick then moves forward to 1992 where an adult Jean absorbs a massive amount of mysterious energy while on a rescue mission in space. Jean starts to have trouble controlling this new power and when combined with personal issues with her past, and what she sees as a betrayal by Charles, sets her against her friends. While Jean deals with her mixed emotions causing destruction and a devastating accidental death, X-Men, mutant and military alike hunt her down. Unbeknownst to all of them, an alien race plans on using Jean and her new power for their own nefarious purposes.
Last of this current series is written and very well directed by Simon Kinberg. Some may miss the bombastic, global scaled action of the last few films, but this finale is actually a bit of a refreshing return to a more intimate scale and more personal storyline. The film is about an internal struggle within the X-Men and within Jean and while we do get invading aliens and an impressive train set action finale, it still feels more in line with the first few X-Men films, before the series blew up in scale. Sure the The Dark Phoenix Saga was used before as a basis for the heavily criticized Last Stand, but it is handled much better this time around. The story pits X-Man against X-Man against mutant against alien, as various factions want to kill, save, or use Jean depending on their personal agendas. Again, it keeps the drama focused on the X-Men and not on disintegrating cities and floating sports arenas, with the characters buried under the spectacle. It’s not all perfect. Main characters like Xavier, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) have become too familiar at this point to be overly intriguing and don’t get too much new development. Other characters like Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) don’t get much character time at all, only really showing up in the action. At 114 minutes, it is one of the shorter X-Men films and so Jean’s inner conflicts and her tenuous relationship with new “friend”, alien leader Vuk (Jesscia Chastain), get what little character focus time there is…and for Vuk, there isn’t all that much, either. Some story-lines are never resolved, like Quicksilver’s confronting his father Magneto, and some endings aren’t completely satisfying. That and overall, being the tenth X-Men themed flick since 2000…this franchise could use a break and a fresh coat of paint. On a technical scale the film looks great, the SPFX are top notch and Hans Zimmer delivers another strong score.
The main cast are all familiar with their characters at this point and that is both a good thing and a bad thing. Lawrence, Fassbender and McAvoy all seem to be going through the motions. They are still effective, but they really aren’t given anything new or intriguing to do, or are adding anything new to their portrayals…other than Charles’ guilt over decisions he made for Jean. Lawrence especially seems to be here for a paycheck. Sophie Turner impresses as the very troubled Jean. She goes from emotionally wounded to powerful bad girl smoothly and handles her varied emotional states very well. She gives the role strength. Jessica Chastain oozes malice as Vuk and as her part could have been stronger written, the actress takes what she is given and delivers a suitable villain, like the pro she is. Supporting cast are all likable and fine as various X-Men and mutants and as the series is now finished, some, like Peters’ smart-alecky Quicksilver, will be missed.
Everyone will see this entry as they will. Some may find it too scaled down for their liking and some may not agree with where certain character’s stories end…or don’t. Others, however, may find it refreshing that the final flick, in this almost two decade series, ends with a focus back on the X-Men and leaves the massive city destruction to Godzilla and The Avengers. Maybe all the reshoots report-ably done weren’t such a bad thing, after all?
Rated 3 (out of 4) fiery phoenixes.