July 20, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Geek Review: Dark Phoenix

The Fox era of X-Men comes to an end by retelling the most famous story in the team's history.

Every so often, a movie comes along that so fails to excite the majority of the Geeks that they come up with a silly nickname for it.  Some wag (possibly Jenny) dubbed Dark Phoenix with the new name Bad Sansa.

That stuck.

However, the movie did come out, so maybe we should judge the thing on its own merits.

The year is 1992.  The X-Men are celebrities, and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is loving every second of it.  His foster sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) is a little wary of it all, but Charles has a phone line to the Oval Office.  Life is good.  Then the team gets a call.  Can they go into space and rescue some astronauts before a solar flare hits their space shuttle?

During the rescue, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is hit with the flare and somehow survives,  And the thing did not look anything like a solar flare when the X-Men actually saw it.  Dubbed Phoenix by the younger students at Xavier’s school, Jean seems OK at first.  She seems stronger and feels fine, but then she starts to gradually lose more and more control of her powers.  Sure, her beloved Scott (Tye Sheridan) is on her side, but can she trust Xavier, particularly as she learns about her own past?

So, bottom line, the movie isn’t very good.  Arguably only Michael Fassbender, reprising Magneto, seems to be really trying.  McAvoy at times seems to be doing a Patrick Stewart impression with some of his speeches.  Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult are far from their best.  Jessica Chastain’s villain is at best serviceable.    As for the younger X-Men, most of them are still new to the franchise, having only been introduced in X-Men Apocalypse.  And therein lies a major problem with this final installment of this version of the X-Men.    Unlike, say, Avengers Endgame, audiences have had no build-up to this story.  We got a brief glimpse of a Phoenix shape in the aforementioned Apocalypse, but that was about it.

As I see it, the original Phoenix Saga storyline worked the way it did because the creators built it over time.  Starting with Jean Grey’s resurrection and running through to her seemingly necessary suicide, Chris Claremont and John Byrne told the story over multiple issues for years.  As they went, they likewise developed the other X-Men as characters.  This group?  What can we say about any of them?  Heck, writer/director Simon Kinberg could have removed a couple of them from the movie entirely and nothing would have happened.

It doesn’t help that the X-Men at the center of this story are always Scott and Jean.  They are arguably the two blandest X-Men in the team’s entire history, characters that only really get interesting when a story makes them evil.  And heck, Scott doesn’t do much here.  The whole movie, save one admittedly good final battle, has a weak script with laughable dialogue.  There are a couple interesting ideas here, but none of them are well-executed.  The Disney merger means there won’t be more of these movies.  It might have been nice if they went out well.  Instead, we get a rushed version of a classic story told over far too small a scale.

Then again, that could be the entire story of Fox’s X-Men movies.  They aspired to create a cinematic universe but never quite found a way to make any characters other than Wolverine or Deadpool all that interesting.  6.5 out of 10 childhood traumas improperly dealt with.