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‘Dark Phoenix’ Is A Lousy End To The X-Men Franchise

‘Dark Phoenix’ Is A Lousy End To The X-Men Franchise

The Jean Grey we know has been in one movie-X-Men: Apocalypse-and she was a supporting character.

Near the start of the film, on a mission in space, Jean is "infected" by an amorphous, iridescent cloud of matter as she uses her telekinetic powers to save a human spaceship. In 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse, the reboot trilogy's Jean Grey first revealed her Phoenix Force powers in the climactic battle.

"Sophie Turner stars in Jean Grey's 90s-set origin story that offers glimpses of intrigue before regressing into a boring CGI-fest". The story becomes about Jean trying to find her agency amidst two older mentors - James McAvoy's Charles Xavier and Jessica Chastain's sinister alien - seeking to control her, but her journey is rushed and her characterization thinly sketched. However, this didn't stop writer and director Simon Kinberg from thinking about including the character in Dark Phoenix. Kinberg, who wrote the third film in the original X-Men trilogy, The Last Stand, brings Dark Phoenix back to those character drama roots, scaling back the stakes and giving prominence to emotional beats and tense dialogue exchanges filmed in extreme close-up.

While the format for the newest X-Men movies makes for some interesting backdrops as audiences follow them through the decades, it also means a lot of character development happens off-screen. Wrestling with this entity inside her, Jean unleashes her powers in ways she can neither comprehend nor contain.

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But Dark Phoenix doesn't waste time justifying its existence in the convoluted canon but instead dives into one of the most adult dramas of the superhero genre in recent years - certainly since Logan. Being a female-centric movie, Dark Phoenix is a welcome change in a franchise ever so populated by men. It seems to go on forever, a farrago of X-Men superpowers deployed - lightning zaps, heat-vision scorching, bad-guy bodies levitated and hurled hither and yon - as train cars are ripped, rent and crushed. The canon began in 2000 with the first movie, simply called X-Men. Dark Phoenix was delayed by more than a year to do reshoots.

From left, James McAvoy, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tye Sheridan and Alexandra Shipp gather for a somber scene in "Dark Phoenix".

So in the timeline that Dark Phoenix is set, Wolverine is still alive and roaming around in his Berserker Rage. Without spoiling too much of her role, I'll just say that Chastain, who is usually a powerful performer who oozes charm, is forced to deliver such a dry, one-note performance that it's hard to stay interested in anything she does. The last problem is something that has affected not just The First Class trilogy but also the previous films and spinoffs. While Charles takes a victory lap and soaks up publicity, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) does not share his enthusiasm. In a sense, Dark Phoenix is the flawless median of the massively uneven X-Men franchise: a middle-of-the-road superhero film that will be remembered for its lost potential. Unfortunately, no one in the cast really shines here because they're not given much meaty material to work with. The formerly selfless mutant leader has let the adulation that comes with success go to his bald head, and he keeps encouraging the X-Men to take greater risks, despite the objections of Mystique. Stay tuned to Heroic Hollywood for the latest news on the future of the X-Men.


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