Well…once again, the hoi polloi was wrong…for the most part. It’s complicated.
Saw Dark Phoenix tonight, and while it was not faithful to the story in any way, shape or form, starred some real weird lookers (the freakish albino woman TV star and the Kurt Wagner were particularly Felliniesque in a cast filled with such) and had a few glaring issues, it hardly deserved the hatred folks seem to be dumping on it.
Let’s all take a deep breath and face facts: Marvel has made MUCH worse films (X-men Origins, anyone? How about the all time shitfest of a nadir, X-men Apocalypse?). At least this one had a semi-coherent story and wasn’t buried under a metric tonne of shit CG. Those two films deserve negative number ratings, don’t kid yourself…and that’s hardly the case here.
Now in terms of the only important cast members, things were fine. This Game of Thrones person (or so I gather) was OK, despite looming over her squirmy boyfriend in a bedroom scene-lite (seriously, she was just too big for him, like a lady wrestler making it with Arnold Stang or something) and having a face that varied from kinda pretty to features too small for her huge square face by the scene and angle.*. Those decidedly minor quirks aside, I was OK with her.
* seriously, she looked like a live action version of the character designs from the Justice League Dark animated film, it’s weird…
The usual McAvoy/Fassbender duo was as strong as ever, though they’re both working at a disadvantage here. Because the author(s)/director(s)/reshoot committee (yes, this was a troubled production, as everyone knows) made this film less about the titular character or the impeccably written and delineated, multilayered run of comics being ostensibly referenced, and far too much about “hiding things and meddling to protect a kid from trauma…which somehow makes Xavier a terrible person”.
Sure, like adopted kids who seek out their birth parents are happier for the experience, right? Everyone claims to want the truth, so few can handle it when shown to them…look at all the manmade climate change deniers for an easy example. How much harder for a child in Jean’s situation, with what she was literally responsible for doing? And Xavier’s the baddie? Sorry, not buying it…and by the by, this exact story angle was handled SO much better (and with a more convincing, emotional and well acted blowout with more realistic repercussions) in Season 1 of the Scyther audio dramas, which I cannot recommend highly enough.*
* go. Seek and ye shall find…and tell the guy behind ’em who sent ya.
And Jim Shooter is proved wrong once again, as his “asparagus people” the D’Bari, who sealed Jean’s fate when she ate their sun and made it go supernova? They’re heinous Neitzchean baddies!
As we now know, she was entirely justified in killing these pricks off, before they can do it to us (or any other race whose planet they may have decided to settle on)! Talk about a retcon shocker…
But seriously, there were a few notable problems here.
Problem 1: zero emotional investment. Things happen too quickly and casually, or are more than justified…but we’re supposed to feel bad about them. Suddenly Jean’s evil because she shoved some hostile cops and military away. Gasp, how horrible. Please. If anyone deserves it, those are the guys.
Problem 2: the always horrible Jennifer Lawrence, who continues to take center stage as…well, the minor nobody character and baddie who the films magically make the centerpiece of every X film for no good reason…even in the Romijin days, mind! aka the now “team leader” (rolls eyes disgustedly) who serves zero purpose except to toss an unjustified feminist line at Charles (Jean aside, what X women ever saved the day in these films? Oh, that’s right…never happened!) and to the cheers of the audience, die early – which makes the rest of the film more watchable by her absence.
Problem 3: mischaracterizations. The film starts off with Charles’ dream having magically come to fruition in the form of a hotline to the President and (most jarringly) cheering fans who wave signs and homemade figures of their favorite mutants. That’s right: America loves the X-men. Ummm…anyway, Charles is supposed to have a precipitous fall due to hubris in this film, but a bit of enjoying the spotlight aside, a fall never feels justified. As he puts it, “some of you have been referring to us as super heroes…I don’t even know what that means. But it’s a damn sight better than what you used to call us!”
We already addressed the Mystique situation, but how about Magneto? Now he’s been put out on the reservation by the government, and he’s not only good with this and cooperating with (and saving!) the invading military, but moved to throw all this kowtowing “good will” away for revenge…over Mystique. Seriously? And Hank as well? Since when did those two have something going?
Problem 4, and it’s a biggie – the only bit of the film that actually bothered yours truly: Kurt kills. You know, the happy go lucky circus performer, swashbuckler, or in later mythos priest? The guy who sublimated his early traumas and rejection/abuse through sheer bombast and joie de vivre…and more to the point, faith (a character trait that was even explored in throwaway scenes during the Claremont/Byrne era)? So…he becomes pissed off and kills a bunch of “people” (aliens). Over what? What horrible trauma, what egregious crime have these malfeasants committed to push this man over the edge and entirely out of character?
Wait for it, because this is a doozy. A military guy, specifically a black man (they made a point of it, so probably worth noting here as well…), tells him while they’re under arrest and shackled that his kid “used to be a fan of yours.” This same guy later sets them free when things go wrong and dies in the melee. No real character development, zero connections, who cares.
This is what turns Kurt, the wise old soul, the sensitive one, the calming influence on borderline psychotic rage pits like Logan, into a mass murderer, killing 4 or 5 of the baddies in seconds flat, with sharp objects and, best touch, by snapping one’s neck with his tail. Objectively, I liked that move…but come on, here. Not Kurt.
And the last problem: this film, as awkward in structure as it is, moving from intimate character study to a larger condemnation of Xavier’s supposed hubris (when his intentions and aims were always for the greater good, and done with love, as Jean puts it) to some weird bombastic thing about aliens trying to kill everyone on Earth and repopulate the planet with their own through the Phoenix force somehow (don’t ask, made no sense whatsoever)? Is by no means and in no way, shape or form a satisfying conclusion to the entirety of the Fox X-Men films (they try to tie the original Patrick Stewart series and the First Class films together and put it all to bed here).
In short, the reason everyone is so unhappy is expectations. Shouldn’t this last film for the forseeable future finally do the Hellfire Club/Dark Phoenix story right, after half measures in X2/3 and First Class?
Shouldn’t we feel emotional engagement, so that traumatic events…deaths, even, actually impact us?
Shouldn’t this feel like a proper sendoff to a good 20 years worth of Fox X-men films…at least to the degree Endgame managed to for the various Marvel Studios films?
But if you go in with lowered expectations, especially if you’re thinking this one will be half as bad as either of the aforementioned X-Men abominations (both of which should be avoided like the plague, and possibly take the whole Weapon X/Lady Deathstrike/fake Dark Phoenix business of X2-3 with ’em)?
You’ll find a film that, while ultimately unsuccessful and peppered with odd grace notes, really wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it deserves an arguable, if awkward place alongside First Class and Days of Future Past (and the 2013 offshoot The Wolverine) as the only actual films of the post-Patrick Stewart X-Men run.