Dark Phoenix (2019) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Few films truly push a physical and audible reaction out of me that I feel unable to control. I’ve choked back many tears, stifled many laughs, and kept thoughts to myself in an effort to be the considerate movie viewer that I feel we should all be. However, my movie etiquette went out the window during Dark Phoenix (2019,) because I was so upset with how bad this movie managed to be. In an era where there is an abundance of amazing comic book movies, there apparently has to be something to balance the equation and remind us of the old days.

Dark Phoenix starts as a smoldering pile of dust and slowly turns to dirt

During an X-Men mission to rescue Astronauts stranded in space, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbs an odd cloud that appears to have damaged the ship and has now increased her power. The other kids at the Xavier school are calling her Phoenix – or at least she and we are told this by Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) – but she isn’t seeming quite like herself. Her increase in power proves dangerous, and secrets from her past begin to surface, sending her spiraling.

I was a big fan of the animated X-Men series in the ‘90s and, as many kids would do, I started collecting the action figures. With them, I would create elaborate scenes where I would position the figures in these epic battles that would take me hours. Of course, they would stand their lifeless, showing little to no interest in the events that were transpiring around them. I was reminded of these times as I watched big name actors and actresses look very much like my action figures: lifeless. Most of the actors in the film are either not interested in being in this movie, or just don’t have enough talent to pull off the weak script and poorly staged action sequences.

This is the second time the X-Men films attempted to bring the Phoenix or the Dark Phoenix saga to cinemas. Many fans felt Last Stand (2006) failed, and the movie is regarded as one of the worst of the franchise. Dark Phoenix was the opportunity to correct the issues with the presentation of the story…but instead, they chose to completely destroy the franchise by giving this iteration no chance of rising from the ashes in the now Disney-owned Fox. I’m only vaguely familiar with the story, as they covered it in that aforementioned animated series – but that’s not even the problem. The movie fails in character development, storytelling, and most other cinematic and writing components. There aren’t many action sequences, and the ones that do exist are poorly staged and a little silly. The plot moves clunkily about, as Turner’s lifeless Jean Grey bounces from place to place looking for answers.

The absolute worst part is the addition of a new set of villains that get very little explanation outside of a few scenes of exposition dumps. Vuk (Jessica Chastain) is the central figure of the group of aliens that appear to be able to take the shape of anyone they encounter (if it sounds familiar, you may be thinking of Captain Marvel (2019), which had the Skrull who did the same thing…these aren’t them, though). Chastain was not only made to look extremely odd (which makes no sense, as the only iteration of the character in the comics was a man, so she could have just looked like herself), but she gives one of the worst performances I’ve seen from her. To be fair, few actors in this film seem to be trying, so it’s not saying much.

One of the elements that really stood out to me was how the writer and director Simon Kinberg doesn’t seem to know anything about the X-Men in this franchise. The most egregious of this failure to understand these established characters fall on the portrayal of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). While there could be arguments made that the events of the last two films have twisted this version of Xavier, I don’t believe that the behavior the character exhibits in this film is at all in line with the story to this point. He is driven by ego and power, and so many silly comic book elements come into play at the beginning of the film.

Final thoughts…

Honestly, it is quite difficult to write about this film, as there was nothing at all that I liked about it. I was actually angry when the film ended, as I’ve been a fan of this Marvel property for a very long time. This movie features bad dialogue given by actors and actresses who are clearly just as done with this film as I am. Dark Phoenix earns the Avoid like the Plague rating.

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