On the dark side

Philip Cu Unjieng - The Philippine Star

Film review: X-Men: Dark Phoenix

MANILA, Philippines — The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the best-loved X-Men comic book story arcs; so it’s no surprise to find the film franchise dipping from this particular well time and time again. In the latest installment, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, we’re taking the story from the angle of the X-Men: First Class iteration. In this section of the X-Men universe, this Dark Phoenix is one with First Class, Days of Future Past and Apocalypse. The film is written and directed by Simon Kinberg, and if one is a fan, one will feel this is a must-see. And it does tell the story as it should, but it’s the tonality and spark-less journey that makes us wish for much more. And mind you, I loved First Class and thought Days of Future Past was a wonderful mess.

We kick off with a prologue of Jean Grey as a child and how she came to fall under the protection of Charles/Professor X (James McAvoy). As the film proper commences in 1992, Jean (Sophie Turner) joins Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Nightcrawler (Jodi Smit-McPhee) on a mission to save the crew of a space shuttle. It is during this rescue mission that Jean gets exposed to the “solar flare” that imbues her with unimaginable power — something of great interest to a band of aliens who suddenly appear, led by the eyebrow-less Vuk (Jessica Chastain).

The main narrative is, as can be expected, an origins story of Jean as the Dark Phoenix; one set piece involving her seeking safe haven at the commune Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has established. There’s an interesting narrative strand that has both Mystique and Beast questioning how Professor X may have let all this attention from the US President, and his scheme of mutants as saviors to humans, get to his bald noggin. At times, he’s ready to endanger the lives of the mutants, or keep dark, important secrets from the mutants he has recruited. It’s a premise that strangely holds water and for once, it turns Charles into a less than sympathetic character — even in his wheelchair.

What we enjoyed so much in the other X-Men: First Class franchise were the tongue in cheek humor, the vibrant esprit de corps and the lively action scenes. Here in Dark Phoenix, we don’t get much of these at all. The best joke would be Mystique dropping a remark about X-Women, and the action scenes all feel too staged, providing screen time to all the stars assembled for this film by rote. And perhaps, this lies as one of the core problems of the film. You keep adding heavyweight stars to the cast, and inevitably, they all have expectations about their roles, and how much lines and screen time they get.

The tonality of the film is so glum and straight-forward, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Kinberg co-wrote this with Eeyore and Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s that serious in exposition, and we’re frustrated seeking shafts of humor. And this is such a shame, as the storyline is actually a strong one — and as I mentioned before, one of the comic book fans’ favorites.

I’m not an avid comic book reader, but I’ve supported and watched all the X-Men films, so I would have to say this isn’t one of the stronger installments. Still a must watch if you’ve followed all the films, but just don’t expect this to be a favorite.

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