When Bryan Singer started the X-Men franchise back in 2000, he crafted the first film as an allegory about being an outsider: those who are “different” and who are discriminated against by the public or by the government. The characters’ strange appearances or unique powers acted as a metaphor for any demonised ethnic or religious group and with Singer’s Jewish roots, the story of Professor X’s nemesis Magneto even became an emotional tale about World War II and Nazi concentration camps. After the noteworthy first outing however, the franchise unfortunately went into a decline, especially when other directors got involved. There’s no doubting that the first X-Men movie, along with Blade, were the catalysts for all the “dark”, “realist” comic book adaptations that followed, and whether good (Christopher Nolan) or bad (Zack Snyder) it cannot be ignored what this series kick-started in Hollywood. And yet, despite X-Men being one of the progenitors to the modern-day, comic-book-adaptation blitz, it quickly became another cartoonish and soulless series of films (with umpteen outings for Wolverine – most of them crap). Thankfully, the X-Men prequels (featuring younger iterations of the characters – except for Wolverine) resuscitated the franchise a little and the gimmick of setting each movie in different decades (’60s, ’70s, ’80s etc.) gave these films a sense of distinctiveness. Unfortunately, the further this set of X-Men movies went, similar to the originals, they also went into a downward spiral, this time with Bryan Singer at the helm who made the penultimate movie X-Men: Apocalypse.
So now what? Well, now we have X-Men: Dark Phoenix, the final film in the franchise but sadly it’s no grand finale. The film begins with Professor X having a direct phone line to the American President so everything is good between mutants and humans. This movie doesn’t really want to go into too much depth with meaningful metaphors and societal undertones, although you could argue that Magneto’s weird, hippie commune built on land that was “given to us by the government” could be a metaphor for Native American land but that’s probably reading too much into it. There’s mentions of “Internment Camps” but Dark Phoenix isn’t an allegory like the first film was. If you stack all the X-Men Blu-rays on top of each other, you can make a pile around 15 cm tall (I’m about to be thrown out of HMV) and that’s about as deep as this movie is. This is just a popular X-Men story translated onto the silver screen to make some final bucks before 20th Century Fox’s franchise is handed over to Marvel. When you see the “MCU” armbands that the government’s security force wear in this movie, it’s either an in-joke or it foreshadows what’s to come. When Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, X-Men: Dark Phoenix was created to act as a “send off” to Fox’s X-Men. The plan after this film is to integrate the characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with… yes, you guessed it… a reboot… yeah!… not.
The prequels (starring James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as younger versions of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen) have been hit and miss: Days Of Future Past was interesting but Apocalypse was disappointing despite both being directed by Singer, the godfather of this entire franchise. With sexual assault allegations against Bryan halting any further Hollywood work, this, the last X-Men movie is now directed by first-time director Simon Kinberg. Kinberg was previously a writer; he’s penned scripts for mediocre movies including Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Jumper, and Sherlock Holmes. He’s also been responsible for horrendous movies such as the 2016 attempted reboot of Fantastic Four, the godawful McG vehicle This Means War, as well as the odd (not in a good way) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Simon has also written some of the X-Men movies including the good Days Of Future Past, the bad The Last Stand, and the disappointing Apocalypse.
It’s pretty obvious that this series of films first started to dip in quality with Kinberg’s X-Men: The Last Stand, so it was a strange decision to put the writer of one of the worst instalments in the director’s chair to end this franchise. This is the film’s main problem; the CGI is poor, the plot plods along, the dialogue is woeful, and the actors look disinterested. The lack of talent in terms of writing and direction therefore, is painfully obvious. When one of the main characters die, you don’t care at all which shows how much this film lacks in emotional engagement. There’s a typical yet mediocre synth and piano Hans Zimmer score (along with some angelic vocals) but it plays over footage that is hardly cinematic.
Dark Phoenix has so many repetitive moments that you find yourself yawning and reclining in your chair rather than sitting upright and alert. There’s conversation after conversation… “but it’s Jean, our friend”… “she deserves to die”… “but it’s Jean, our friend”… “she deserves to die”… on a god-damn loop. The action is few and far between but even when it occurs, it’s either in the dark, or it’s limited to hand gestures (pinchy and palmy)… if one hand doesn’t do it, use two hands, because the amount of hands you use affects psychokinesis: a power of the mind! (sarcasm). There’s also some amazing purply-peachy fire and gold-coloured skin cracks… oh wow! (more sarcasm).
When Raven says to Charles “the women are always saving the men around here, you might wanna call it the X-Women” you just know the script was written to include all the contrived, fake-woke ideas Hollywood currently has, in fact a similar line is present in MIB International. Speaking of contrived, there’s lots of cliches in this film such as showing us a worldwide, international spectacle (think the country-by-country scenes in something like Independence Day). There’s also the corny line by one of the army/security blokes who are hired to arrest the X-Men: “my kid used to be a fan” (yeah, so were we until you started making shitty sequels).
This being the final X-Men movie, you’d think there’d be a massive, all-encompassing Avengers: Endgame-style climax but unfortunately time travel has already been used in Days Of Future Past so instead we have another re-telling of Jean Grey turning into the Dark Phoenix. Now you may be thinking: didn’t Grey turn into the Phoenix in The Last Stand? The answer of course is yes, which shows that this studio no longer cares about continuity. In fact, if you watch the X-Men movies in order with the prequels first, the timelines no longer make any sense (especially since the mutant who dies in this one is integral to the plot of the Singer originals).
If you say that Magneto was around 10 in Auschwitz (X-Men) that means he was 30 during the Cuban Missile Crisis (X-Men: First Class). Since this film is set in 1992 (you can’t tell as the costume department or the set designers haven’t tried at all) that puts McAvoy and Fassbender’s age range at around 60 years old but they look exactly the same as they did in First Class give or take a wrinkle. In 7-8 years time, these two are supposed to look like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen but they don’t and they won’t. Despite Wolverine being the same actor throughout the originals and the prequels (because he doesn’t age – although he does in real life – meow) I assume that meant the timelines were originally intended to converge but nothing makes sense any more. But does anyone really care at this point? It doesn’t seem like the filmmakers do.
For fans of the original actors, there’s no “farewell”, although if you’re a fan of these younger versions of the X-Men, there’s no real “goodbye” from them either. Instead we have a plot about a hero turning bad and back to good again told in 114 minutes. Fans have been pointing out online that the “Dark Phoenix Saga” (the character arc of this superhero turning evil) can’t be told in under two hours and they were kind of right, although under Simon Kinberg’s wings, I don’t think any amount of additional time would help this drab-arsed film.
As Charles Xavier says to a young Jean Grey in this film as he hands her a pen (paraphrasing) “you can draw a lovely drawing or poke someone’s eye out with this; you choose what you do with your gift”, in a similar way Kinberg chose what to do with this franchise and his laptop, and he didn’t create a lovely film, he didn’t even poke the audience’s eyes out, he just put us all to sleep. Don’t forget that the cast includes some decent acting talent (James McAvoy as Professor X, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, Nicholas Hoult as Beast, Sophie Turner as Dark Phoenix, Tye Sheridan as Cyclops, Alexandra Shipp as Storm, Evan Peter as Quicksilver, Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler, and now Jessica Chastain as some sort of alien shapeshifter) so it must take some special kind of hack to make this list of actors perform as if they were in an advert for pain medication (now I know why McAvoy looked so bored on The Graham Norton Show – he had to promote this pish).
Saying goodbye to more than ten films which ran for almost two decades in this way is a huge disappointment, which seems to be a theme this year. Will this be a summer of shite sequels? With Godzilla II and now Dark Phoenix, it looks that way.