07th Jun2019

‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jessica Chastain, Halston Sage | Written and Directed by Simon Kinberg

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix holds two distinct records on its quiet and understated release. Firstly, it stands as the directorial debut for franchise writer and producer Simon Kinberg. Secondly, it signals the end of an era for the FOX & Marvel charter and the last entry in this franchise (let’s face it, New Mutants isn’t ever coming out, right?) that has lasted a staggering nineteen years, only for 20th Century Fox to be acquired by Disney Studios earlier this year. So, if this signals the true end of a fruitful era of comic book creation for FOX, it should end on quite the compelling note, well, the result is not quite the same captivating ballpark, with quite underwhelming results.

While this film may perhaps infer it’s the beginning of the end with the trailers released, the film itself could not be any further from the truth. If you’re going into this with zero expectation or understanding of what direction this franchise is heading, you’d have no idea that this is the reportedly last film in this series. It’s evident that the filmmakers during principal photography were not in those same enterprise offices talking about business as the men in suits, of which quite fairly can’t be held accountable for with how events turned out. However, knowing that they went back in for three-month reshoots to change the entire third act – after similarities to a major MCU feature – it begs the question of why they couldn’t inject some more gravitas and weight to this feature, because to say it’s a breeze would be an understatement. The film comes and goes without much fair. It’s not boring per se, but a film touted as a final play of the dice should have a sense of sensationalism and importance. Instead, we’re dealt with what feels like a basic entry that goes over the same events in equally as unimpressive fashion in what Brett Ratner tried to achieve in X-Men: The Last Stand.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a better film no doubt to Ratner’s interpretation of the comic arc of the same name. It has better direction as the set pieces are well directed and crafted with Kinberg putting in a good brace for his directorial debut. Significantly the cinematography by Mauro Fiore has a great sense of visual flair and fluidity with the camera. It never stays still and ultimately greatly appreciates the pacing of the feature, which is an average running time of one hundred and fourteen minutes for a comic book feature that never has you waiting around long for anything to develop. That being said, it’s quite clear in a few notable scenes that Kinberg hasn’t found his feet quite yet with certain emotional sequences, of which are held on to for far too long in what feels like an unnecessary stalled length. All that The Last Stand failed to inhabit thirteen years ago.

But with where Kinberg strives he also falls flat. His sole outing in the screenplay department is nothing short of trash and it really dampens some of the performances that – inadvertently or not – are equally unimpressive. Certain dialogue here is atrocious. It’s unnatural, inorganic and flawed to a degree of questionable origin. Character arcs feel either painfully regurgitated or frustratingly empty and hollow. The dynamic between Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven and James McAvoy’s Xavier is one notable example of the latter that opens up and never closes itself to a level of sufficient execution. There is so much built up animosity and pain only for everyone to be jolly and jocular moments later. It’s severely inconsistent. As are the performances.

There are certain performers here participating to purely fulfil a contract and have absolutely no interest in the material, and both Lawrence and Michael Fassbender fall into the camp. It’s disappointing when in the same breath you have Sophie Turner putting forth a really striking and emotionally compelling performance as the titular character. Batman runner up Nicolas Hoult also really impresses with a terrific turn as Beast. His vulnerability and range really strikes and sharpens his screen presence.

All in all, Kinberg’s directorial debut is just inconsistent. It’s well shot and well edited by Lee Smith, but with regards to the screenplay, it has no approach or direction in which to take these characters. The narrative with every chance chokes with each opportunity to craft something unique and energetic. The continuity, for one, for any fan of this series is traumatising to watch. There is zero connective tissue to anything that has come before it and those few last frames are excruciating to see develop.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is in cinemas now.

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