It’s quite incredible what one bad movie can do to the goodwill of an entire franchise. The world of superhuman mutants has certainly had its ups and downs over the last two decades. For every X2, Days of Future Past, and Logan, there has been an X-Men Origins: Wolverine or The Last Stand. But there’s only been one absolute howler in the long-running series, and that, as I’m sure you already know, is X-Men: Apocalypse from 2016. That film – which immediately precedes Dark Phoenix in the franchise – was so dreadful, it pretty much ensured that the audience appetite for this film was zero. Which considering this is one of the most famous and beloved stories in the long history of X-Men comics, is quite an achievement.
Dark Phoenix is set in 1992, thirty years since First Class, but no one really looks any older. Must be the mutant DNA keeping them young. Having saved the world from apocalyptic destruction, the X-Men are now renowned heroes. When a space shuttle mission is critically endangered by solar flares, the President calls Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) for help. The X-Men save the astronauts, but in the process, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) the most powerful mutant in the world, absorbs all the energy of those flares in order to save her friends. But unlucky for her, they weren’t solar flares. They were something much more sinister.
With a ferocious alien power coursing inside her, Jean becomes the Dark Phoenix. Memories from her traumatic childhood – that Xavier had psychically hidden – come crashing to the surface. Filled with rage and unbidden desire, Jean unleashes her fury, and becomes the most powerful enemy the X-Men have ever faced. To complicate things further, Vuk (Jessica Chastain) a shape-shifting alien arrives on Earth, with her army of D’Bari warriors. They want to seize control of the power within Jean, and use it to conquer our world.
Simon Kinberg, the long-time producer and creative force behind this generation of X-movies has stepped up to direct. This is not a decision that has paid off for him, or the film. Horribly paced and plotted, the film is a lifeless and lop-sided affair. The special features on the disc are filled with the actors saying how thrilled they were to have Kinberg at the helm, but you can see the truth in their lacklustre performances. Apart from a third act action sequence on a train, which is actually quite exciting, all the other action looks as though it has been choreographed by a director who doesn’t know where to point the camera.
I genuinely believe that after Apocalypse, no one wanted to come back, and that is why every performance has the whiff of contractual obligation about it. There’s just no drama in anything that happens. There’s none of the usual socio-political subtext associated with the X-Men, it’s just scene after scene of on-the-nose drivel. I feel sorry for Sophie Turner. This should have been a huge moment for her film career, but she ends up getting side-lined in a movie where she’s the titular character. Kinberg seems more interested in the toll this is taking on the X-Men, with the emphasis being on men. We spend a lot of time ruminating if Charles’s vanity led to this, which is interesting, but I’m here to see the Dark Phoenix, not another meditation on the failings of Professor X.
The 4K UHD and Blu-ray release comes packed with bonus content. There’s 8-minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary from Kinberg and producer Hutch Parker. Rise of the Phoenix: The Making of Dark Phoenix is a 5-part feature length documentary exploring all aspects of the movie. There’s lots of behind the scenes footage, and interviews with all the main cast and creatives. It’s always interesting to see how films of this scale are pulled together, but watching this documentary, it’s just as interesting to get a sense of the film they all thought they were making, compared to what we eventually got.
How to Fly your Jet to Space with Beast is a short, and very silly featurette with Nicholas Hoult in character as Beast, albeit a more jokey version, talking about space travel. There’s also a feature length audio commentary with Simon Kinberg and Hutch Parker, and the theatrical trailers.
Cast: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence Director: Simon Kinberg Writer: Simon Kinberg Released By: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment Certificate: 12 Duration: 114 mins Release Date: 7th October 2019