TOM TANGNEY

‘Dark Phoenix’ sends Fox’s X-Men saga out with a whimper

Jun 7, 2019, 7:21 AM

“Nobody cares anymore.”

That’s a line spoken by Magneto in Dark Phoenix, that best sums up the feeling evinced by the latest X-Men movie. It’s also a sentiment shared by the cast, crew, and audience, I suspect.

It’s the 12th X-Men movie in the past 19 years, and should have been a nice, culminating send-off for this second generation of actors, who took the reins from the original cast in 2011.

But James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and company are going out not with a bang, but a whimper. Even Sophie Turner, of Game of Thrones fame, who plays the lead, can’t save the film from a dreary sense of deja vu.

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Let’s go over that opening clip again. Magneto and Professor X (Charles Xavier) are once again squaring off, as they have been since the very first X-Men movie.

“Stay out of my way,” warns Magneto.

“I’m sorry for what she did, but I can’t let you go in there,” Professor X responds.

“You’re always sorry, Charles, and there’s always a speech. But nobody cares anymore,” Magneto aptly states.

Even they sound bored with their umpteenth stand-off.

Dark Phoenix is ostensibly the origin story of X-Men standout Jean Grey, whose superpower is the ability to read people’s minds. This is not exactly virgin territory, since Grey’s story was partly covered in the 2006 X-Men: The Last Stand (its familiarity might be adding to the sense of fatigue that envelops much of this movie).

What is new here is how Jane Grey became Phoenix, and eventually Dark Phoenix. On a rescue mission in space, Grey unintentionally absorbs a powerful and destructive force in the universe. She survives, but returns to earth with near invincible powers.

These new superpowers create complications, however. For one, their absorption has shaken loose her repressed memories of the car-crash deaths of her parents. It becomes clear that Professor X lied to Jean Grey as he raised her to be an X-Man. And that infuriates her.

Secondly, her newly acquired powers are hard for her to control, which makes her susceptible to evil, alien forces.

“Something’s happening to me — when I lose control, bad things happen… but it feels good,” Grey says.

“That power destroyed everything it ever came into contact with — until you,” an alien villain played by Jessica Chastain tells her. “The X-Men fear you, and what they fear…”

“They seek to destroy,” says Jean.

Unfortunately, Phoenix’s personal dilemma proves to be not all that dramatic.

So, it’s left to the forces around her to gin up interest. It’s been reported that the film’s release was delayed by a year so an extended climactic action sequence could be added. And that’s why the movie more or less concludes with an all-out battle between Professor X’s X-Men, Magneto’s mutants, and that alien race from outer space.

That all happens while Dark Phoenix, supposedly the most powerful hero in the universe, is unconscious and manacled. It doesn’t exactly burnish the image of Dark Phoenix, but it does make for a more exciting finish.

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One final complaint. I can’t tell if this is just atrocious writing or a nakedly desperate attempt at social relevance, but poor Jennifer Lawrence, Academy-Award-winning Jennifer Lawrence, has to deliver this groan-worthy line with a straight face:

“It’s funny — I can’t actually remember the last time you were the one risking something. And by the way, the women are always saving the men around here; you might want to think about changing the name to ‘X-Women,'” she tells Professor X.

I’ve got a better idea. How about making a better movie about a woman superhero instead?

Tom Tangney on KIRO Radio

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‘Dark Phoenix’ sends Fox’s X-Men saga out with a whimper