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Dark Phoenix | Simon Kinberg

June 6, 2019

As well all know, 20th Century Fox has been purchased by Disney, and the X-Men are now under new management, presumably to be re-exploited and re-integrated into the larger whole at some point.  After not merely 6 previous films (11 if you count the Wolverine and Deadpool standalones) but dozens of other superhero movies and the continued dominance of the MCU, the series comes to an ignominious close both due to creative exhaustion and corporate hegemony. Dark Phoenix not only marks the final (for now) entry in this series, it’s also the first time a comic book sequel has retold a story from a previous film in an attempt to “get it right this time,” certainly a novelty in a genre already known for ret-conning and time-twisting and frequent resurrecting of the dead. The title clues you in that this is a recapitulation of the beloved “Dark Phoenix Saga” storyline from the comics (last attempted in 2006’s despised-by-the-fans X-Men: The Last Stand), in which telekinetic Jean Grey (here played by Sophie Turner) becomes possessed by a cosmic entity that boosts her already formidable abilities to dangerous, civilization-threatening levels, leaving it to her teammates to ponder whether or not to stop her, if such a thing is even possible.

The franchise that began by ushering in the future of comic book movies winds up as a tepid has-been.

Sadly this iteration of the story is even less faithful and exciting than the previous allegedly botched one. The characters’ leaps through time and twists of personality throughout multiple films, casts, and timelines has rendered them blank slates, constantly submitting their motivations to the needs of the plot, and so the team’s decision to potentially have to kill their friend has almost no emotional core (not to mention that since Hugh Jackman retired, Wolverine’s not present, removing the love triangle aspect of this story — one of the few things The Last Stand successfully attempted). Worse, the film basically presents a scenario in which a traumatized woman lets her scary feelings make her a problem to be solved lest the wrong people get hurt. And while the X-Men films have always been relatively more intimate in scope than, say, their MCU contemporaries, everything here is just way too small. Comic-book famous Mutants-only haven Genosha is reimagined as a tiny commune,  the action in this tale of intergalactic superbeings and space invaders is remarkably tepid, with the climax taking place on a train being assaulted by generic CGI aliens (and Jessica Chastain, completely wasted as their mysterious leader who wants…well that’s not ever really made clear). At least director Simon Kinberg keeps things looking good; anamorphic lenses on his Arri Alexa have left a pleasing grain here that lends the grounded action some welcome tactility, a far cry from the last few entries’ chintzy digital sheen. But it’s not enough to rescue what’s essentially a disappointing season finale of a show you already know has been cancelled. Sad to see the franchise that began by ushering in the future of comic book movies wind up as tepid has-been.

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