REVIEW: Dark Phoenix
The Dark Phoenix storyline is revered by creators and fans alike, yet twice now it has failed to work as a feature film. The main reason is because a two-hour film isn’t long enough to deal with the cosmic forces in play or the corruption of Jean Grey. Remember, the story effectively began in X-Men #101 (1976) and concluded in issue #137 four years later.
Simon Kinberg’s script uses the space shuttle incident and Phoenix force to kick off the film, currently title Dark Phoenix, but the slow infusion of cosmic force and human psyche has little time to manifest. What the force is gets very little explanation, including why it was contained within a human form (Sophie Turner).
As she’s evolving, everyone else is going about their business with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) beginning to wonder about their place on the team and at Charles Xavier’s school. Xavier (James McAvoy) is suddenly a lauded wunderkind and this incarnation begins to bask in the limelight, creating resentment.
Off to the side and woefully underdeveloped, the last remnants of the D’Bari race, led by a mysterious woman (Jessica Chastain), have come to Earth having trailed the cosmic entity. They have isolated Jean and are now off to obtain her or the force.
Jean’s powers have been heightened and then go off the rails and she can’t control it and rejects every helping hand offered her, until she discovers that Xavier tampered with her mind when they first met, making her think dad died in the car crash that also claimed her mother’s life. She goes to seek him out setting up Jean vs. the X-Men with Mystique paying the price.
Because the production can’t resist, she goes seeking help from Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who wants to help but she is quick to reject him, probably so she can be somewhat seduced by Chastain. All of which builds up to humanity hating the mutants (again), Xavier and Magneto joining forces to save the world, and Chastain inexplicably displaying more power than any other D’Bari for a less than satisfying climax.
Kinberg has been living with these characters for a long time and was building up to this story. The cast has come to love him and convinced him it was time to direct. Apparently nobody was around to point out the story has multiple plot holes, some terrible storytelling logic, and uses the X-Men without really giving them much to do. Jean is badly served despite being the focal point of the story. I suspect if you took out all the alien invader nonsense, there would have been more time for a stronger story with a human element. Instead, what we have is a film that wastes the biggest cosmic story in the mutants’ history and ends the 20th Century Fox incarnation with a thud.
The movie is out now from 20th Century Home Entertainment in numerous formats, including a Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack. The 1080p high definition transfer nicely captures the night shadows, the colorful cosmic special effects, and all the tones in between. The Dolby Atmos audio track nicely balances voice, Hans Zimmer score, and effects.
The film comes with the usual assortment of special features, all of which describe their love for one another and for the project. I wish I saw the film they thought they were making. We have an Audi commentary from Kinberg, who also narrates a series of deleted scenes, none of which are truly missed. There’s a 90 minute multi-part making of piece that is sliced and diced, making sure everyone gets their final moments in the sun. It’s nice to see Chris Claremont discuss his cameo and the story’s importance, although he totally skips over all the controversy inflicted by then-Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, forcing him to make a hasty change to the ending.
As this comes out, rumors are already bubbling up as to what Marvel Studios has planned for the characters and it’ll be interesting to see how and when they’re integrated. The 20th Century Fox run had some brilliant casting, some strong writing, and more than a few misfires. It’s probably for the best the franchise takes a short rest before being resurrected for a (hopefully) eager audience.