The final X-Men movie in the Fox era retires our heroes in monotonous fashion
The 20th Century Fox X-Men era can finally rest.
Bryan Singer and his incredible crew worked tirelessly to bring the fan favourite mutants to the screen back in 2000, and in doing so forged a pathway for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it. In the years that followed, we were introduced to new heroes, classic comic book storylines and a wide range of conflicting ideologies, many of which detracted from the overall splendour of the greater X-Men universe.
Bryan Singer delivered two stellar movies to launch the franchise in X-Men and X2: X-Men United, but their brilliance was swiftly undermined by X-Men: The Last Stand, a Simon Kinberg project which fumbled the classic Dark Phoenix storyline and turned it into the abomination of the saga. The damage was marginally undone by the enjoyable X-Men: First Class, but it wasn’t until Singer returned to the franchise that the blight was truly eradicated.
X-Men: Days of Future Past quickly righted the ship and returned the X-Men saga to the path of righteousness. Betrayed characters were restored to prominence, The Last Stand was eradicated from the timeline and things were finally right in the X-Men universe once again. And then, X-Men: Apocalypse underperformed at the box office and seriously underplayed its antagonist who was a shadow of his true comic book self. This led to 20th Century Fox diverting from the true path once again by tasking Simon Kinberg with culminating the X-Men saga before its eventual return to the Marvel/Disney Umbrella.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix | 20th Century Fox
In truth, the writing was on the wall from the start.
X-Men: The Last Stand was nothing short of an abomination. And I mean a Batman & Robin level abomination. One that almost destroyed the franchise. So, when 20th Century Fox charged the same writer to pen the finale to the almost twenty-year-old saga, my heart sank. With good cause. Much in the same way as Avengers: Endgame was designed to bring the last ten years of movies to a close, X-Men: Dark Phoenix was supposed to culminate the sum of its parts and bring the saga to a triumphant climax.
And, it fails miserably.
Simon Kinberg once again returns to the Phoenix Saga comic series to cherry pick ideas and throw them at the wall to see what sticks. What emerges is another unwelcome hybrid of lethargic writing mixed with a complete misinterpretation of X-Men lore. Primary characters are once again killed off in nonsensical fashion leading to the complete and utter destruction of the timeline as we know it. This so-called “finale” to the X-Men franchise only serves to spit in the face of its predecessors and undermines the legitimacy of the movies that are supposed to follow it. The events of X-Men, X2: X-Men United, Days of Future Past and Apocalypse are now left in ruins which in turn, has degraded the plot of the Wolverine trilogy.
And this all from a movie which was supposed to culminate the stories of the past two decades.
For the most part, Dark Phoenix is almost passable. Almost. The X-Men are now regarded as heroes. The prejudices of the past have faded into memory and the world has accepted mutants into society. But when a NASA space mission goes awry, the X-Men jet off to save the crew before they are engulfed by a solar flare. In true X-Men fashion, our heroes save the day. However, the flare suddenly becomes sentient and envelopes Jean Grey. Much in the same way as the comics, the flare is revealed to be the Phoenix, an astral cosmic entity which has the power to either destroy or create entire planets. With Jean serving as the vessel for the Phoenix, what follows is a race against time to save her from the surging power within before it can consume her and destroy everything, she holds dear.
It started so well!
What Simon Kinberg does next is to basically re-hash the eyesore that was The Last Stand and contemporise it for a new and unsuspecting captive audience. The dull plot of Professor Charles Xavier being villainised for his past transgressions rears its ugly head once again and takes the emphasis away from the story’s primary focus. Jean Grey. For the most part, Jean is revealed as a deer caught in the headlights desperately trying to come to terms with the overwhelming power inside her, a force she simply cannot control. There is no mention of the sentient awareness of the being residing within her, nor does it reveal the dual personality struggle she undergoes in the comics. In short, she has terrifying new destructive powers…. because!
For the most part, James McAvoy and Sophie Turner perform as well as can be expected with such a dire script, but the likes of Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence reprise their roles with unwavering indifference and seem happy to be retiring their respective roles at long last. Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops and Nicholas Hoult’s Beast deserve far better treatment than they receive and Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Evan Peters as Storm, Nightcrawler and Quicksilver respectively are reduced to bit-part roles unbefitting of their talents.
In contrast, Dark Phoenix does manage to produce some excitement when the action finally gets going. The confrontation on a speeding train between the X-Men and Jessica Chastain’s pointless band of alien villains is breathtakingly visceral at times and serves to hit the right notes. The action moves fast with every member of the team utilising their powers to brutal effect. This is where Fassbender comes to the fore. This sequence, though coming far too late in the movie to change the films self-destructive storyline, is worth the price of admission and gives us a real sense of what could have been. But sadly, it’s too little too late.
Moving on to the film’s soundtrack and for this instalment, the studio decided to move away from the majesty of John Ottman’s superlative X-Men scores of the past and appointed superhero veteran Hans Zimmer as a composer. The once great composer, who rose to prominence with phenomenal scores for The Rock, Crimson Tide and Batman Begins has been in decline in recent years and his previous efforts on Batman vs Superman and Man of Steel, despite offering some superb themes fell far short of the superhero mark. Dark Phoenix fares no better. Aside from a powerful theme for Jean Grey, Zimmer’s music fails to deliver the majesty befitting the property and the result is a totally underwhelming score devoid of the heroism expected from the X brand.
It is these elements that compound its failure. We deserved better. Moreover, the X-Men deserved better!
To say X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a total loss would be untrue. The movie has “some” redeeming qualities, but as an X-Men fan, I cannot see past the blatant mishandling of the property by a writer/director with a proven track record of botching storylines. Many of the same tired, and frankly unwelcome aspects of The Last Stand worm their way into Dark Phoenix and the result is the same. Being billed as the climax to a franchise that launched the wider Marvel universe, I truly expected a stellar send-off. Instead, the studio has hammered home the final nail its coffin.
It is a bittersweet feeling to commit the last two decades of X-Men movies to memory. In all honesty, the retirement of the 20th Century Fox X-Men era is arguably way overdue. Hugh Jackman’s retirement as Wolverine was the moment Fox should have pressed the reset button. Instead, they threw together re-hash of old material, contemporized by the writer who almost destroyed the franchise in the first place and expected the result to be different. For shame.
I now welcome a hard reset by Marvel Studios. At least there, the X-Men can be restored and rejuvenated back to their brilliant best and be allowed to thrive alongside the titans of the primary Marvel universe. Anything else would be a waste of material, and sadly that is the perfect description of X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
Thank you for the memories X-Men. You can now rest, free from meddling hands at last.
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