‘Dark Phoenix’ Review: An Xhausting and Xcruciating End to the X-Men

Twentieth Century Fox

Unless you insist on counting the Deadpool films, Dark Phoenix is not only only the tenth X-Men movie, it is the worst by a country mile.

And, sadly, it will be the last in a series that has been with us since X-Men started it all a whole 19 years ago in 2000.

How long ago is that?

The World Trade Center stood, Hillary Clinton was America’s first lady, and there were only two Law & Orders on the air.

Dark Phoenix will be the last because our heroes have been defeated by a super-villain no one can stop, the Greed Monster called Disney, which swallowed 20th Century-Fox whole earlier this year.

Oh, the characters will be all be back, but in a completely new universe; the Marvel Cinematic Universe — so Dark Phoenix is, in fact, a goodbye to the X-Men as we know them.

Dark Phoenix is also an injustice to movie fans all over the world, because debate and discussion is one of the great pleasures of being a movie fan and Dark Phoenix has forever ended the argument over which X-Men sucks the hardest.

I happen to like X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and even enjoy X-Men: Last Stand (2006). A lot of people don’t. We all pretty much agree X-Men: Apocalypse is a disappointment, but, still, it has its moments. During these back and forths I like to make the snobby purists gasp by announcing that The Wolverine (2013), is tedious, forgettable, and no fun whatsoever, which puts it at the bottom of my list.

I’m going to miss all of that.

How bad is Dark Phoenix?

It’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace bad.

It makes the dreadful Captain Marvel look like Spider-Man 2 bad.

It’s so bad, poor little Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, who looks like she’d rather be anywhere else), is forced to spout dialogue like: “The women are always saving the men around here; you might want to think about changing the name to ‘X-Women.'”

It’s so bad, Dark Phoenix herself (someone named Sophie Turner) actually says, “When I lose control, things happen… Bad things.”

This movie is so bad I cannot tell you what it about.

Jennifer Lawrence and Sophie Turner in Dark Phoenix, Twentieth Century Fox, 2019.

Jessica Chastain in Dark Phoenix, Twentieth Century Fox/Doane Gregory, 2019

How do you make a movie without it being about something? Sure, there’s a plot — a lousy one, but there’s no theme at work here. Thanks to the time-shift in 2014’s superb X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dark Phoenix isn’t even about what X-Men is supposed to be about — how those who are different deal with bigotry, about the clash between Xavier’s Martin Luther King approach and Magneto’s (Michael Fassbender) Malcolm X militancy.

In this movie, after having saved the world in Apocalypse, the X-Men are world heroes. Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) even has an X-Phone that goes straight to the Oval Office.

So, because there is no theme to talk about, I have to talk about my least favorite thing to talk about, which is the plot…

The year is 1992 (where everything looks exactly like it does today — which is not the fault of the movie but Baby Boomers who are afraid of change because change means death and death scares those who haven’t found Jesus) and the Space Shuttle Endeavor is in trouble. The president calls Xavier, Xavier calls Mystique, Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Jean Grey aka Dark Phoenix (someone named Sophie Turner).

And off they go into space to save the astronauts, but not before this someone named Sophie Turner inhales what everyone mistakenly believes is a solar flare.

All seems well with Jean until it is not, and this is when things get confusing. I never understood what Jean’s problem was. The swallowing of that solar flare thingy makes her all-powerful, which means she’s like Captain Marvel where she can do anything by lifting her hands, which means there are no rules governing her powers, which makes those powers boring; which means she cannot die, which removes all sense of peril, which is also boring, but what the hell is her problem?

Apparently, she’s mad at Xavier for entering her mind and blocking an unpleasant family memory, so she goes off the rails, which makes her an over-emotional neurotic, which is an awfully strange approach to a Grrrrl Power flick.

So the X-Men try to stop her, and some want to kill her, but only to serve the plot, not out of a motive for vengeance that ever makes a lick of sense.

This movie cost $200 million, most of it obviously spent on wind machines and all the takes required to nail that perfect tear dropped by Fassbender.

About halfway through, I thought about walking out, but I’m glad I didn’t because there is an actual train wreck in this train wreck and the lost hour of my life was worth the opportunity to point that out.

On top of more melodrama than a 1950’s Joan Crawford movie, there’s Jessica Chastain as Vuk, an alien who is able to inhabit everything about a human being except their eyebrows.

Apparently the solar flare Jean swallowed is actually a planet killer and Vuk wants its back to destroy earth, or something, and things end with Vuk and Jean holding each other by the throat as lame special effects swirl around them.

No one even tells her “Vuk you,” which would’ve been awesome.

Even more frustrating is the dropped plot lines. Xavier apparently has a drinking problem, until he doesn’t. There’s a ton of Xposition about how the internal battle over whether to save or kill Jean could result in the public turning against the X-Men. The president even disconnects the X-Phone, but this all goes nowhere.

Dark Phoenix has no sense of humor, none of the relationships feel real, and as far as conveying emotions, this is the Bugsy Malone of the X-Men series, the one where you feel the loss of the original cast of grown-ups who have been replaced by a bunch of kids playing grown up.

This was not as big of a problem in the previous prequels, and McAvoy and Fassbender add some heft, but you are going to miss Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, and the rest like never before.

And why is it called Dark Phoenix as opposed to “X-Men: Dark Phoenix?”

Until this week, I didn’t even know this was part of the X-Men: First Class franchise.

Dark Phoenix” makes it sound like a spin-off no one asked for. This someone named Sophie Turner even dominates the poster in a way where you hardly notice the other characters, which would tip you off to where the movie fits into the overall franchise.

What I’m saying is that there’s nothing about Dark Phoenix that’s not a botch job.

Let me close by telling a truth we are no longer allowed to tell: This someone named Sophie Turner is a terrible choice for the lead. She has the face of a witch with baby fat, zero charisma, and less sex appeal than Brie Larson. Famke Janssen (the original Jean) had it going on all over the place, and the lack of hot cha cha in this movie and all superhero movies of late, this sterilization that makes Mormons look like party animals, is getting old.

Vuk you, Hollywood, I want my T & A back.

Woke sucks.

This piece was updated to correct a factual error. 

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.


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