The Mutants Need Some Family Counseling in ‘Dark Phoenix’

Will you like X-Men: Dark Phoenix? I guess that depends on what you are expecting to get out of it. Overall, the reception from various X-Men movies that have been released since 2000 have been all over the board from “really good” to “what the heck just happened?” Just like the first go around of X-Men stories, the “first class” set also started out well only to progress with fewer accolades with each new chapter.

For some, Dark Phoenix will be a disappointment, but I actually enjoyed it. I suppose it’s because I didn’t walk into the theater with high expectations. Assume the worst but hope for the best. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its flaws, it does, but unlike how some have described the film, it’s not a train wreck. And if comparisons are important, this film is w-a-y better than Fox’s last attempt at showing Jean Grey’s dark side, aka, The Last Stand in 2006.

One of the most difficult aspects of telling the X-Men stories, besides finding a suitable reason for Magneto to wear his metal helmet, is creating a story where all of the mutants have a turn in the storytelling. But in Dark Phoenix, writer and director Simon Kinberg decided to center the story on one character. Now, in theory, this is a good idea as he could have explored what each of the other mutants were thinking and feeling about the changes happening to their friend. Instead, they aren’t given much to do except shoot lasers with their eyes and send lightning strikes with their fingers when needed. If Storm (Ororo Munroe) is Jean’s friend, you wouldn’t know it by watching this movie. You would think that all of these mutants living and working together for so long now, they would have developed a stronger bond. There’s not much in the form of words or actions that shows that this is the case.

Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee and Storm ( Ororo Munroe) (20th Century Fox)

The movie begins with a flashback to 1975 when Jean accidentally causes a horrible car crash killing her parents. At the hospital, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) arrives to take Jean to live with him at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters and he takes away her pain by blocking out the accident from her memories.

The film then flashes forward to 1992. The X-Men are what you might call a really big deal. No longer “scary,” the mutants are well accepted by the general public and known for their many good deeds. It is on this day though that the president of the United States calls upon them to help rescue the crew from the space shuttle Endeavour when their ship, spinning out of control, is hit by a solar flare. The whole team is ready to serve their country, but Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) is wary about the mission.

During the rescue, Jean (Sophie Turner) gets trapped in the shuttle and absorbs all of the solar flare. That can’t be good. But she comes to and everything appears to be alright. Back at the school, Raven scolds Xavier for continually pushing the mutants harder and harder and accuses him of doing so just to feed his own ego rather than helping to keep the mutants in good standing with the regular humans.

Soon though, it becomes clear that Jean, now going by her new nickname Phoenix because she rose from the ashes, is not alright. She starts to remember details about her parents’ death, the voices in her head become stronger and she becomes erratic.

Meanwhile, shape-shifting aliens have landed on earth and are very interested in Phoenix’s powers. Taking the form of a human female with pale skin, white hair and blank expression, Vuk (Jessica Chastin) tracks down Phoenix hoping to encourage her to reach her untapped potential. (Apparently the school did not teach lessons about not talking to strangers.) The character of Vuk is as bland as her skin. Sure, the movie explains who she is and what she wants, but it’s done with such a ho-hum approach that you really don’t care.

Though we know things will not go well, Xavier seems to be oblivious to the things that could go wrong and instead continues to utter numerous platitudes. By the time Phoenix screams for him to get out of her head, we can’t agree more.

Jean (Sophie Turner and Vuk (Jessica Chastin) (20th Century Fox)

A lot goes on in the film including bringing Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and his merry band of misfit mutants to the mix. The X-Men family tree starts to splinter and take sides. This would be an excellent time to explore some of the more obscure mutants, but instead, Kinberg uses only a few and gives them a line or two of dialogue to say here and there. Again, Evan Peters’ excellent Quicksilver character gets only one good scene in the whole film and Storm, one of my favorite characters, doesn’t get to say or do much either. At least Nightcrawler gets to have a little fun.

Anyone attending this movie knows ahead of time that this isn’t really a “fun” story, but even so, the film is robbed of all humor and weirdly, any emotion at all. Any time a comic book movie takes itself too seriously, it opens the door to be mocked.

While I enjoyed this movie, I found myself wanting more. More meaningful dialogue. More humor. More heart. There’s not even an extra scene during the credits. And I doubt that we will get to see more from this crew. Sure, the film ends on a note where it’s possible that another X-Men sequel could come down the road, but it doesn’t seem likely.

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