Dark Phoenix: The Fox-era of X-Men films draws to a close but where was Wolverine?
So, here's the thing, the opening scene of the movie is set in 1975 and Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" is heard on the radio, which wasn't released until 1978. Such lack of attention to detail had me worried from the outset. Things settled down soon enough and I was back in the world of Professor X, Magneto, Raven, Cyclops, Storm, Night Crawler and of course Jean Grey, the titular Phoenix.
Closing out the Fox era of X-Men movies, Dark Phoenix revisits the story of Jean Grey falling prey to the powerful Phoenix Force. The film is the feature directorial debut of long-time X-Men screenwriter and producer Simon Kinberg, and stars Game of Thrones' Sophie Turner as Jean Grey alongside the rest of the prequel series' cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Evan Peters, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Jessica Chastain also joins the cast this time around as alien villain Vuk. (I know, I too wanted to ask "What the Vuk?")
So, whats going on?
During a rescue mission in space, Jean Grey is hit by a mysterious cosmic energy that heightens her powers. This transformation makes her unstable and extremely dangerous. Now she doesn’t merely pose a threat to her X-Men family, but the world at large. The X-Men need to choose between saving her and saving the rest of humanity. That's it. Oh and there is also a B-plot with some aliens which is never really explained or concluded satisfactorily.
This is a film that, unusually, is carried along by the strength of its cast’s performances, not the showiness of its special effects. Chastain, McAvoy, Lawrence and Michael Fassbender ground their characters in ways that make their dilemmas and motivations plausible, while Turner does a good job of exploring the complexities of someone forced to reckon with suddenly being the most powerful person on the planet, She does a better job of emoting that struggle than Captain Marvel did.
All the actors give solid performances, even with the limited material. Michael Fassbender gets the rough end of the stick with Magneto and yet, to his credit, really sells it. Same goes with James McAvoy, although this is probably the weakest version we’ve seen of Charles Xavier, and yet James McAvoy, is reliable as always. Sophie Turner has a fair amount of screen-time, and she brings the right amount of pathos to Jean Grey that helps move the film along. The biggest problem is its B-plot villain whose motives are pretty run of the mill – destroy this world to rebuild it in their own way. It's neither new nor exciting. Action wise, there are a few fun moments, but nothing memorable, especially with a third act that appears to be quite rushed. What could have been a big surprise twist with a lot more impact is ruined in the trailers thanks to lazy marketing. The weak screenplay and script weigh down the characters with some clunky dialogue. Like Avengers: Endgame, this film brings an arc of multiple films to a close. It doesn't do it as well as Avengers but it's almost satisfactory.
Oh, and someone dies.
But where was Wolverine?