Dark Phoenix  Review – The Phoenix flies to nowhere
Even with the abysmal character-sketch and barely an arc to boost to even compete with Hugh Jackman’s cameo in X-Men: Apocalypse, Jessica Chastain, playing a shapeshifter-alien with white-blonde braid and inconspicuous eyebrow, appears as an intimidating adversary. Her charismatic screen presence and gravitas provide credibility to her single-note character. That’s how good she is as an actor in a film that is inconsistent and forgettable but entertaining nonetheless.
Dark Phoenix is not as atrocious as ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ and ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’, but it is an unnecessary addition to the mediocre series. The ‘Phoenix’ does rise from the ashes left behind by the deafening and eye-gouging aesthetics of Apocalypse but never manages to fly high enough to prove its worth.
Dark Phoenix is a 12th X-Men movie in the series, and supposedly the finale that tries to give closure to the memorable characters. Instead, the haphazard rush into the several subplot developments in it leaves a lot to desire and unanswered. Basing the plot around Jean Grey, played by the Queen of North from Game of thrones– Sophie Turner, Professor Charles Xavier takes her in Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, after she accidentally uses telekinesis causing a car accident that kills her parents.
On space travel to save endangered astronauts in space shuttle Endeavour, Grey absorbs all the blown-up CGI infected solar flare of uncontrolled energy that leaves Grey and the plot unstable. The unprecedented psychic power threatens the life of mutants around her when she could not control and navigate her way out through it.“Her mutation has grown too powerful,” declares worried Xavier when Grey throws him out of her mind.
Caught up in an emotional turmoil when her past reveals a bitter truth kept hidden from her, there’s a shift in Jean’s loyalty. She turns rogue and goes underground to unravel the mystery surrounding her identity. It leads her to Genosha, the farm commune of mutant refugees presided over by Eric (Michael Fassbender). She desperately seeks to learn how to control her volatile power. In an uninteresting, paper-thin subplot to manufacture the conflict, Vuk (played by Jessica Chastain) manipulates alienated Jean to use for her agenda.
The writer/director Simon Kinberg, the screenwriter of ‘The Last Stand’, ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ and producer on ‘First Class’, knows the emotional pulse of characters well. Still, he miserably fails to capitalize on the characters’ arc from the X-men series. Storm, Cyclops and Nightcrawler are mere background characters. The narrative uses them as a device to stage an ideological conflict that is underpinned by the weight of too many parallel proceedings. Under the barrage of action set pieces, muddled subplots, done-to-death alien agenda, shapeshifting Chastain, and underutilized Michael Fassbender, lies a compelling narrative of the very fabric of X-men unity threatened.
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The threat is internal, and Xavier’s choices and controlling nature inadvertently cause spirling things out of control. Jean’s identity crisis and instability are the embodiment of those poor choices and control fixation of Xavier. He can not admit his mistakes. Even Erik is tired of the ‘ideal principle’ charade, disregarding his attempts to stand in his way, “You’re always sorry Charles, and there is always a speech.” Xavier has reasonable reasons for every choice and action, and it strikes true. He is desperate to uphold the notion that mutants are not a threat to humans. He can’t afford one bad day to ruin the year-long effort of establishing a mutual understanding with humans.
‘Dark Phoenix’ is a straightforward thriller. After the cancerous CGI feast in X-Men: Apocalypse, Kinberg relies on practical effects. The action set-pieces feel rooted, neatly choreographed and life-threatening, even to Mutants. Hans Zimmer’s score adds to the tension. James McAvoy gives every inch of himself to the character. He brings vulnerability and fallibility to Charles. Alexandra Shipp tries to breathe soul into the half-baked character of Storm. ‘Storm’ has always been reduced to a caricature, and Dark Phoenix is no different. Only if ‘Dark Phoenix’ was not rushed and fitly flesh-out the supporting characters, the ideological clash would have been intriguing to examine the characters of mutants, and the movie would prove a great send off.