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TAC Reviews...X-Men Dark Pheonix 

 

The final film in the current X-Men series sees the usual assembled cast of the prequel/reboot films return once more. Honestly I was going to write a longer intro but it doesn't really need one, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are on hand as Charles Xavier and Magneto, and pretty much everyone else from Apocalypse has also returned. Jessica Christian is the only real addition to the cast this time playing a shape-shifting alien creature named...you know I don't think she has one so lets call her Beryl.
 

X-Men Dark Pheonix Poster

 

So first I think a little context is required. This is based on what I have heard so it may or may not be 100% accurate. Now Disney recently bought Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox. 20th Century Fox owning the rights to the current series of X-Men movies. However, not surprisingly Disney wants all Marvel intellectual property to fall under their sphere of control. As a result they don't want other studios doing their own versions of Marvel characters and stories. This is why Netflix shows based on Marvel characters like Luke Cage have been cancelled and why it has only been recently that Spider-Man joined the MCU because it took time to wrestle a compromise from Sony who currently own the rights to the web-head. There have been rumours of the X-Men one day joining the MCU at some point further down the road. Dark Phoenix may have originally been conceived as a continuation of the story but it has actually become the film that draws a line under the X-Men in their current form. 

Right, now that is out of the way, let's crack on...

The film opens with a flashback in which the young Jean Grey loses control of her powers leading to her parents car crashing and both her parents being killed. The young girl is approached by Charles Xavier who offers to take her to his home and teach her how to control her powers so that no one gets hurt again. 

Cut forward to 1992 and a NASA shuttle being damaged in space by a massive interstellar storm and Charles Xavier getting the call from the President that the X-Men are needed to go and save the day. The X-Jet happens to have been given a new booster engine that Hank aka Beast designed to go faster around the world but Charles believes can be used to get them to space to rescue the astronauts. The jet is able to get into orbit and Nightcrawler and Quicksilver head over to the shuttle and grab the astronauts. Back on the jet one of the astronauts says that their commander is still on the shuttle. The storm is bearing down on them, but Charles advises them to return to save the last man. Jean (Sophie Turner reprising the role), and Nightcrawler return to the shuttle, Jean using her powers to hold the shuttle together as Nightcrawler locates the last man. The storm is about to hit the jet when Jean redirects it away from them and towards herself. Somehow she absorbs the storm's energy and is rescued by Nightcrawler, the jet then returns to Earth to the applause of X-Men fans.

Back on Earth Raven aka Mistique confronts Charles over his perceived reckless behaviour. Jean could have died and all because he was willing to put the X-Men in danger to rescue strangers. Charles counters her by arguing that all the goodwill that the mutants have is because of their willingness to prove that they can be useful to humanity and all it would take is one negative event to undo all the world they have done. Raven dismisses his arguments believing instead that the X-Men are about Charles' ego and he is enjoying being in the spotlight, on the cover of magazines and so on.

Meanwhile a woman, Beryl, leaves a dinner party to go and investigate why her dog is barking. She is killed or absorbed or taken over or imitated by an alien life form that promptly kills everyone at dinner.

Back at the X-Mansion Jean is examined by Hank, who cannot find anything wrong with her. Charles gives everyone the day off to party and  celebrate the successful rescue of the astronauts. Raven tries to convince Hank that it is time to leave the X-Men and make a life for themselves away from the world, but he believes that what they do with the X-Men and the school is bigger than just them so refuses to go.  It is during the party that Jean loses control of her powers and knocks everyone unconscious. After looking into Charles' mind Jean discovers that her father is still alive having survived the crash that killed her mother. Feeling betrayed by her mentor, Jean seeks out her father but discovers that he abandoned her following the crash as he was afraid of her and blamed her for the death of his wife.

Charles and the X-Men arrive to try and convince her to come back, but confused and angry, Jean lashes out at some police that arrive on the scene. The X-Men try to engage her but are swiftly defeated, one being badly injured and another is killed in the confusion. Jean, afraid of her powers, flees so she cannot hurt anyone else.

She seeks out Magnito who she believes may be able to help her control her powers. She has blood on her clothes, and refuses to tell him who's blood it belongs to. He offers her sanctuary but after she attacks a team of marines, he also tells her to leave. Beryl seeks to track her down, for unknown reasons, and once he learns who's blood was on Jean's clothing Magnito decides to kill her in revenge.

With Beryl trying to convince her to use her powers for her own ends, the X-Men splintering apart, and Magnito after her blood, Jean must decide whether to embrace the darkness growing within her or face the consequences of what she has done...

Now you might be thinking as you read this that Jean having some kind of dark power that she cannot control might sound oddly familiar, and you'd be right, because it was a plot point in X-Men The Last Stand. At the end of X-Men 2 Famke Janssen's Jean Grey sacrifices herself to save the other X-Men, but returns in X-Men The Last Stand and is mercy killed by Wolverine after she goes on a rampage that would consume the world. Thing is that The Last Stand wasn't very good, so if Dark Phoenix has a similar story told better wouldn't that give it a right to exist?? Yes, but unfortunately the film simulatiniously doesn't have the balls to go all the way with the concept or do much to make the story original. 

Remember at the beginning of Apocalypse when Magneto is living a quiet life away from the world with his wife and child, when people turn up, accidentally kill his family so he kills those responsible then joins Apocalypse only to have a change of heart at the end?? Well, in this film Magneto is living in a community of mutants, when Jean asks for his help, he refuses after she brings trouble to his doorstep. She has sought him out because she is afraid of her power and wants to know how he stopped killing, he makes this speech about vengeance not making you fell better, so gave up on that life. Then not twenty minutes later when he finds out who Jean killed, decides the most level headed thing to do is seek vengeance...

Er...Magneto, you do remember that you literally just told Jean that revenge is ultimately pointless right?? So why are you now swearing revenge?? Is it so you can get to walk around in the admittedly badass looking long coat and helmet for a while before your inevitable change of heart?? 

That is one of just so many bizarre writing choice and story elements.

The X-Jet has never been designed to go into space, but it is able to get there thanks to its booster, okay fine. How does it survive re-entry without burning up?? Why when they return to the shuttle to look for the final guy does Quicksilver tape a helmet onto Nightcrawler but doesn't put one on himself or Jean?? If the storm has already damaged the shuttle then why is it still approaching it by the time the X-Men arrive?? 

Literally everything in that previous paragraph happens in the first few minutes of the film. 

Remember the sequence in the last film when the mansion is blowing up in slow motion whilst Quicksilver saves everyone to the tune of Sweet Dreams?? Remember how that was one of the best things in that film?? Well, guess who is barely in this one. Yep, Quicksilver is badly wounded and pushed to the sideline to take no future part in the story. The question of whether Quicksilver would ever tell Magnito that he was his father, a question left over from the end of Apocalypse, is never addressed or even mentioned. 

I remember being disappointed that the mutants had mostly been wiped out by humanity in Logan which was set in the future timeline, because as he was going senile Charles Xavier might have killed them when he lost control of his powers, and only Logan was able to resist his power. If this film fitted into the canon of the original films and happened after Day of Future Past then it could have worked, Jean could have gone insane, killed all the mutants, and Logan once again was forced to kill her. Unfortunately in Dark Phoenix the status quo cannot really be changed because we already know that after the events of Days of Future Past a new future was created in which mutants had been accepted. Scott and Jean were alive and well (despite being killed in The Last Stand) as was Professor Xavier so tampering with the timeline had created a golden age for mutants which messed with the canon of the original films but still worked. Yet Dark Phoenix messes up the canon in a way that makes no sense.

 

 

The mutant that Jean accidentally kills is Raven, who is trying to calm her down, but Raven/Mystique is alive in the original films so how can she be dead?? Also Jean ascends into a God-like being at the end of the film and resides in space, so how and when does she come back to fit in with her appearance in Days of Future Past?? Plus with this film taking place in 1992 can someone explain why none of the characters who have been in the films since the original First Class which was set in the 1960s have aged?? Yes it is because the actors haven't but can someone explain how in the space of a little under a decade James McAvoy transitions into Patrick Stewart or Michael Fassbender into Ian McKellan?? Plus Xavier is pretty much exiled from the X-Men and his own home at the end of the film so again how does he wind up back there, once again in charge by the early 2000s when the original film series started. Yes I get that Days of Future Past changed the canon of the original films but don't forget when Wolverine returned to his original time we saw Scott Summers being played by his original actor James, Jean Grey being portrayed by Famke Janssen, Beast by Kelsey Grammer, as well as Ice Man, Rogue and of course Patrick Stewart as Xavier so we KNOW that the events of the reboot/prequel films is linked to the continuity of the first films even if some of the details have been changed. 

It is irritating because basically the X-Men series wrapped up with Days of Future Past, the original cast getting to share the film with their younger counterparts was great fun, yes it was a bit pretentious but it was never the less enjoyable. 

Since Days of Future Past the majority of the prequel characters don't seem to have story arcs instead more story holding patterns. It reminded me of those Saturday morning cartoons when the status quo is always resent at the end of every episode. Adversities are generally resolved and everything goes back to normal. Same old, same old, with the exception of the bizarre changes mentioned above. Either change everything or change nothing, flipping back and forth makes no sense.

Hank/Beast turns on Charles after it becomes apparent that he used his power to create mental blocks within Jean's mind to protect her from the abilities she cannot control. He does this without her knowledge. Hank, mourning Raven, accuses Charles of being wrong to put those blocks in place because now that they are breaking down Jean is unable to control herself. If he hadn't done that then she might be better able to manage her powers. A fair point. However, can a child fully understand what will happen if they push the bright red button on the side of a nuclear bomb?? Probably not. This idea was reused from The Last Stand. The barriers break down and Jean begins to be consumed by the darkness inside her, which fights back when Xavier tries to restore them leading to his death. I get that as she grew and matured Charles could have helped her by slowly taking down those walls at a rate in which she could cope with allowing her to not be overwhelmed by emotion or the power itself. However, on the other side of the coin, why take the chance she won't ever be in control of herself??

There is story line in a series of Stargate SG-1 regarding a child known as harsesis (don't worry this tangent will become relevant in a sec). The child is born from two Gou'ld and contains all the genetic knowledge that the Gou'ld had when it was conceived. Such children are dangerous because they are human and as a result the information within their minds could lead to the downfall of the Gou'ld as a race. The child is found and SG-1 and Co try to get him to give up the secrets of the Gou'ld. The child transfers the knowledge to Daniel Jackson who is consumed by it. Weapons are built designed to defend Earth from the Gou'ld but Daniel is also corrupted by the knowledge that he turns the weapons on anyone challenging him become as bad as the Gou'ld himself. It happens in a dream sequence but the final element of the story is that sometime the only way yo defeat the darkness is to deny it the battle.

If Charles and Jean had tried to control her powers but each time it had started to consume her and the barriers had been left there at her consent then fine. That way Charles would have been justified in keeping the barriers in place. Denying the Phoenix the battle because both he and Jean feared that she would lose out if she tried to use those abilities.  The energy cloud thing in space could simply be breaking those barriers leading to a multiple personality type deal between the Jean and the Phoenix persona.

It is just a contrived reason to have the X-Men turning on Charles. Raven even accuses him of being an ego manic and enjoys the celebrity lifestyle. I can't say I ever got that impression from him as he has spent his life fighting for mutant rights. Still, his reasons for helping humans are very contrived. Apparently he is concerned that if mutants aren't at the beck and call of humanity then they'll once again be hunted and imprisoned. In the story holding-pattern naturally this happens when Jean attacks Police for no reason and all mutants are declared as dangerous. Yes, because that is what happens isn't it?? You know when ONE person goes crazy with a gun or a knife everyone who owns a gun or a knife is rounded up and arrested.

In yet another bizarre plot point the arrested mutants are put on a train and collars are put round their necks which presumably stop them using their abilities. If such collars exist then why the hell did no one stick one around Jean's neck, neutralising her powers and eliminating any threat she posed??

By the way there are Aliens in X-Men now...remember how Thanos was introduced in Infinity War having never been seen previously...no sorry I'm remembering that wrong. Aliens have been part of the MCU since Thor, they are part of the canon, but Dark Phoenix just bungs them in as yet another contrived reason to confuse Jean about her allegiances.

You know if there wasn't so much bullshit the story could have been far simpler, and a line from the trailer wasn't used that would explain all of Jean's motivations in one sentence. The power feels good. In the moment she is not thinking rationally, all she is focussing on is how good it makes her feel, to abandon her concerns, her worries, her fears and just embrace what has been within her since the day she was born. The divide between doing what is right and what feels good could have been really interesting but it is executed in such a piss poor way that the majority of the time i was just bored.

Ironically the only time the film really came a live was a sequence on a train when all the mutants are using their powers to fight off the attacking aliens, and Jean is unconscious in the next carriage. The best bit of the film is when they take the focus off her and let us see what we want to see, badass mutants using their powers to kick, well, ass. It is cool, it is fun and it was basically the only thing that roused me from the boredom-educed coma the rest of the film had forced me into.

I will admit that it wasn't all bad, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are what I consider professional actors and they give their all regardless of what they are doing. They never give a bad performance even if they are in bad films. Sadly the rest of the cast don't have that kind of professionalism and mostly seem to just be going through the motions. Perhaps when news filtered to the set that this was the final film of the series because Disney wanted it to end, the majority of the cast decided there wasn't much point in trying too hard. None of them were ever going to get their own spin-offs or take centre stage so what was the point in bringing their A-game??

Sophie Turner spends half the film either crying or half smiling as her eyes glow, and Jean lashes out at the police and military for basically no reason. It is one contrived reason for conflict after another. Plus I have no idea how the blood got on her shirt, she uses a telekinetic wave to blast Raven away from her, Raven is impaled several feet away so how and when does the blood get on her clothes??? Plus it is clearly an accident so again why does everyone now want her dead?? Magneto has killed a bunch of people intentionally so why is everyone cool with him but not with her??

Basically I can summarise the film in four words: IT MAKES NO SENSE!!! Which for a film about mutants who's powers range from telepathy, teleportation, controlling metal and lasers shooting out of their eyes is a pretty impressive thing to do

There can be no denying that the X-Men films have had their peaks and troughs, it is a shame that they are ultimately ending in an unsatisfying trough. The series should have ended with Days of Future Past, if it had, it would have ended on a high. Unfortunately two unnecessary sequels were churned out that really had no reason to exist. Personally I will disregard Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix, choosing instead to believe that the series ended with the far better Days of Future Past

Considering the amount of holes i have picked in the film it should be obvious that this one was never going to get a Thumbs Up, and even leaving my Thumb Horizontal seems like awarding too much praise. The final entry in the current series ends on a whimper not a roar and forced my Thumb Down. 

 

 

4/10 - I found the film dull, and was picking one hole in it after another. If the film had energy it might have been enjoyable, if it had a decent story it might have been interesting, if the characters had any significant growth it might have been thought provoking. Sadly it was none of those things and ultimately was nothing more than a tangled mess of contrived story threads, which ultimately served to do nothing more than bore.

 

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© Chris Sharman