Dark Phoenix

If you’re looking for something to watch on HBO, do not watch this movie. It is as bad as everyone has said it is. If you’re looking for a bad movie to enjoy as a bad movie, this is also not going to fit the bill. There isn’t much of anything here for anyone.

For anyone unfamiliar with the X-Men, they are a team of super-powered individuals who attend the Xavier school to learn how to use their powers. Their first movie was released on 2000. In the past twenty years, there have been 13 movies taking place in the X-Men movie universe. These include reboots, origin stories, and tangents. The timeline and characters are a huge muddle at this point. It’s honestly hard to describe where and how this movie fits in or which versions of these characters the movie is following.

James McAvoy, usually brilliant here wasted, plays Charles Xavier. He’s been fighting for the rights of superpowered mutants his whole life. Michael Fassbender, giving more than he should for a movie this bad, plays Magneto Xavier’s one time friend then enemy, then ally, now something. Sophie Turner, from Game of Thrones doing what she can here, plays Jean Grey a powerful mutant with vaguely defined powers that threaten the world around her. The film also contains about a dozen others, but they all fade into the background. People are essentially no different from props in this movie. They get shuffled here and there and deliver wooden lines as woodenly as possible.

(Note: while writing this paragraph, I just remembered that Jessica Chastain, Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, is in this movie and is entirely forgettable. She is essential to the plot, and she is a great actress. Yet she is entirely forgettable. How is that possible? It takes a very bad movie to make a great actress invisible.)

Anyway, the X-Men go to space to rescue a space ship. Once they are there, Jean Grey is bombarded with purple special effects and then comes back to earth feeling good. She is more powerful than ever. This is one of those movies where characters talk of “power” in hushed whispers and serious tones, but they never really define power or what it means. Jean basically goes rabid and attacks everybody around her hurting a bunch of people in the process. The X-Men are divided in how to handle her. Some want to kill her, some want to save her. A bunch of other stuff happens, but it’s not really interesting enough to get into.

Only a few scenes stand out, one in which Magneto, and Xavier confront Jean. This involves a moment where Michael Fassbender acts so hard the movie almost works for a minute. He tries so hard that he nearly turns things around, but then he gets thrown out a window. This is followed by James McAvoy doing something that is supposed to be gruesome and unsettling but the way it’s shot and his performance just feels absolutely hilarious. Xavier is wheelchair bound, and Jean uses her mind powers to force him to walk up stairs. The set up is there for a really grotesque and complicated moment, but the director chooses to shoot this in a wide shot. This wide shot eliminates our ability to invest in Xavier’s experience. It just leaves us looking at James McAvoy doing a very silly walk up a stair case.

There are some cool moments in the final battle, but really the movie is just so serious about itself that it never releases its vice grip long enough to be entertaining. The director clearly misunderstood what this movie was supposed to be. It’s a comic book movie. Yes it can have weighty issues and serious themes and heavy subject matter, but it has to have something in it worth watching. Good looking actors frowning at each other in medium close ups for 2 hours isn’t enough.

This movie has a lot of fundamental story telling problems. It has too many characters. It takes itself too seriously. It forgets to tell the story of its main character and its bogged down in background details. It’s just bad story telling and worse it’s boring. Not my cup of tea. – D

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