It has been 19 years since the X-Men first burst onto our cinema screens, launching a new wave of comic book adaptations, while sparking interest in cinematic versions of MARVELS characters. Over the course of 19 years the X-Men franchise has seen its fair share of ups and down, with spin offs, re-launches and financially induced sequels creating a mosaic of quality.
Dark Phoenix marks the final chapter in the ‘First Class’ re-launch began in 2011, a series that never really got off the ground, despite a solid first film and experienced cast.
Centring its story around Jean Grey, Dark Phoenix is formula filmmaking. With a plot that never really develops into anything meaningful, surrounded by action sequences that while entertaining distract from any meaningful character development. Dark Phoenix is a prime example of what happens when a franchise that has run out of ideas is coupled to a studio that see potential financial returns.
Our story starts back in the 1970s with a young Jean Grey (Summer Fontana) travelling in the family car with her mum and dad on a lonely highway. Jeans unfocused yet powerful mutant abilities leading to a tragedy that is more than obvious from the outset. Escaping unscathed Jean is brought to the attention of Dr Xavier (McAvoy), who takes her into his care at his home for extraordinary young people.
Dark Phoenix then returns to 1990s America, where the X-Men are heroes, Xavier having built a mutant collective accepted by wider society as powerful allies. With a direct line to the White House the X-Men find themselves called upon to help save a disastrous space shuttle mission, a mission full of challenges and individual bravery for all involved. Jean Grey working alongside her mutant family places her own life on the line to help save the shuttle, the strange cosmic force that caused the disaster engulfing her body.
With Jean Grey changing as the cosmic force becomes a part of her powers, the X-Men must fight for the very future of humankind. Their reputation as heroes eroded and changed by the powers of the Dark Phoenix.
Despite excellent sound design and a beautiful deep colour pallet, Dark Phoenix never manages to rise above the flames. Riddled with structural problems ranging from a weak script, to lacklustre performances and direction. The diversity of MARVELS characters are never used to full advantage, with many simply sidelined early on, and others scantly explored. Dark Phoenix is a film that has no clear direction of travel, core message or role in its wider franchise.
The interesting themes Dark Phoenix poses in family, friendship and childhood trauma are unfortunately bi-passed in favour of action. The only real emotional depth coming from McAvoy whose Xavier is darker and more nuanced that Patrick Stewarts incarnation. Equally core messages on gender are confused and underwhelming, resorting to throw away lines that offer nothing of any substance to overall narrative.
Dark Phoenix never manages to rise above a feeling of franchise fatigue, culminating in a disappointing swan song for a set of characters who re-wrote the role of MARVEL comics on screen 19 years ago. The X-Men and women now deserve a long and refreshing break from our cinema screens.