‘Dark Phoenix’: The Mutant With the Strongest Superpower Can’t Save the Franchise

By Mark Jackson, Epoch Times
June 11, 2019 Updated: June 11, 2019

PG-13 | | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi | 7 June 2019 (USA)

I was a little sad to see the Marvel series of 22 movies come to an end. I can’t say the same of “Dark Phoenix,” the final chapter of the “X-Men” tale. Nope. Good riddance.

How many times can you watch Professor Charles Xavier roll his wheelchair out on that guardrail-less metal bridge into that Hayden Planetarium-ish place, where he views people’s CGI thoughts that look like squirts of blue detergent in a giant washing machine?

How many times can you watch Michael Fassbender’s Magneto put on the faux Etruscan helmet, float 20 feet in the air, and crush everything that’s made of metal by glaring, straining his neck muscles, gnashing his teeth, and making fists?

man with helmet
Michael Fassbender and Kota Eberhardt in Twentieth Century Fox’s “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.” (Doane Gregory/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

Or that indigo-colored German boy with the luxurious hair, devil’s tail, and the ability to apparate (a Harry Potter term) in a cloud of what looks to be squid ink? Maybe that’s also the washing detergent stuff, except black. Same swirly texture.

Anyway, the franchise has long grown stale; we’ve seen all the various character-schticks, and there are no surprises happening. This new story centers on the young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). She would be the titular Dark Phoenix.

woman in grey sweater in woods
Sophie Turner stars as Jean Grey in Twentieth Century Fox’s “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.” (Doane Gregory/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

How Jean Got Her Powers

Jean, as a child, got saddled with a massive guilt complex after having involved her vacationing-in-the-station-wagon parents in a head-on collision with a truck, by stubbornly using her mind control to dominate the car radio station.

Then, we fast-forward three decades. The X-Men, whose superpowers are now recognized by the government as assets (instead of outlawed liabilities), are now blasting off in their big X-Men jet to rescue a space shuttle mission gone wrong.

Wait—there’s a solar flare! And it’s attacking the space shuttle! And it also looks like squid ink, or washing machine detergent. But pink, with some sparkly stuff in it … stars, maybe?

But Jean’s particular superpower apparently can deal with this, so she absorbs this, this Phoenix Force of a solar flare thingy. You can tell because, post-absorption, her face has small lightning storms going on inside it.

Woman with lightning in her face
Sophie Turner as Jean Grey unlocking her superpowers, in Twentieth Century Fox’s “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.” (Doane Gregory/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

That’ll give a person a lot of power, absorbing a solar flare. But apparently it’s a force that has an intelligence of its own, and now Jean sometimes attacks her fellow mutants.

X-men on a train
(L–R) James McAvoy, Andrew Stehlin, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tye Sheridan, Nicholas Hoult, Alexandra Shipp, and Michael Fassbender in Twentieth Century Fox’s “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.” (Doane Gregory/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

And so the rest of the movie is about government authorities, fellow X-Men, and a race of shape-shifting aliens known as the D’Bari, chasing Jean around, trying variously to rescue her from, or siphon off, her newfound solar potency.

The D’Bari like to take on human forms; they’re so ugly, you can understand this desire. Their fearless leader, Vuk, is played by a eyebrowless Jessica Chastain, looking exactly, and I mean exactly, like Edgar Winter on the album cover of 1972’s “They Only Come Out at Night,” except without the snowy sideburns.

brunette and blonde women in front of chandelier
Sophie Turner as Jean Grey (L) and Jessica Chastain as an alien in Twentieth Century Fox’s “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.” (Doane Gregory/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

Aaaaand Scene

Will the emotionally unstable Jean be OK? Will the government, which has decided they got it right the first time—that mutants are dangerous and need to be locked up—relent?

blue-skinned mutant
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Raven/Mystique in Twentieth Century Fox’s “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.” (Doane Gregory/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

Acting-wise, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender can’t be faulted. The material is too weak to engage their talents.

X-men, woman and man
Sophie Turner and James McAvoy in Twentieth Century Fox’s “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.” (Doane Gregory/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

The main way in which the film both succeeds and fails is in the depiction of Jean Grey’s powers.

The tradition of higher martial arts considers it quite possible to harness, if not exactly galaxy-sized clouds of cosmic energy, then an amount that can nevertheless boggle the human mind in terms of the advanced abilities it can give rise to, which lie dormant in the human body. That much is apparently true.

Where the film fumbles, though, (again, according to martial arts traditions) is that it portrays the aliens as being wrong, because they accuse Jean of being too weak to handle this power, due to the use of her human emotions.

Mutants take a stand
(L–R) Kota Eberhardt, Andrew Stehlin, Michael Fassbender (in front), Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Alexandra Shipp, in Twentieth Century Fox’s “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.” (Doane Gregory/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

But Vuk and her alien colleagues are exactly right; a highly advanced martial artist is already approaching superhuman status. The energy level is superhuman. And that kind of energy can only be developed when the student learns to move beyond human emotion, through mastering meditative techniques.

And so when Jean claims she’s all-powerful and superior (with the washing machine detergent and sparkliness all swishing around in her face and stuff) because she is using her human emotions, well, that’s just bad writing, and the X-Men need to go away now and never come back until they figure out what they’re talking about.

Two X-men flying
Evan Peters and Sophie Turner in Twentieth Century Fox’s “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.” (Doane Gregory/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

‘Dark Phoenix’
Director: Simon Kinberg
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Kodi-Smit McPhee, Jessica Chastain
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Release Date: June 7
Rated: 2.5 stars out of 5

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch
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