In 12 films over the past 19 years, the X-Men have had a lot of highs and a lot of lows.
While installments like “Days of Future Past” and “Logan” are some of the best comic book movies ever, “The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” are among the worst. The latest installment, “Dark Phoenix,” falls somewhere near the bottom.
With dozens upon dozens to choose from, many of the characters in these films and their storylines are close to their comic book counterparts, or at least live up to the spirit of them but explore new interpretations.
Unfortunately, one of the most famous X-Men to never have her story told right is Jean Grey, the telepathic girl who grows to be even more powerful than the X-Men founder, Charles Xavier.
After a couple earlier attempts, the finale to the main series’ seven-film story tries to tell Jean’s Dark Phoenix Saga right, but the filmmakers once again don’t get it, and the series goes out not with a bang, but a whimper.
Set in 1992, during a life-threatening rescue mission in space, Jean (played by Sophie Turner) is hit by a cosmic force that transforms her into one of the most powerful mutants of all.
Wrestling with this increasingly unstable power as well as her own personal demons, Jean spirals out of control, tearing the X-Men family apart and threatening to destroy the very fabric of the planet.
The family of mutants she’s come to know and love — including Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) — must face their most devastating enemy yet: one of their own.
It is too bad that this final installment is one of the weakest, but I think most of the blame goes to writer/director Simon Kinberg. Kinberg has been a co-writer and co-producer of several X-Men movies, but this is his directorial debut, and it definitely shows.
For someone involved in the series for so long, it’s surprising Kinberg was not ready to be the only person writing and directing a movie. From a bland, uninspired script to unfocused and poorly constructed scenes, his leadership is what brings “Dark Phoenix” down so far.
The reason I know this is because most of the people on the screen do a great job and give solid performances, despite the lack of good writing and directing. McAvoy by this point is just as iconic a Charles Xavier as Patrick Stewart, and his arc through these movies is entertaining and comes to a head here.
While other supporting actors like Fassbender and Hoult also give fine performances, it’s obvious other actors just don’t want to be there, but none more so than Lawrence. She wanted to move on from the series after her second performance in “Days of Future Past,” but the studio kept bringing her back. Lawrence is there for a paycheck, nothing more.
However, there are other good things to be found here, though not necessarily anything that saves the whole thing. For one, the special effects are very nice and pretty and look more realistic than the CGI from even three years ago. The computer programs just keep getting better, but that still doesn’t save a poor story.
Because Kinberg wrote the whole thing himself, he didn’t have anyone checking to make sure the story flowed naturally and did things like build tension and emotion through good pacing.
At less than two hours, this is the shortest of the prequel films with this cast, but it definitely needed at least 15 more minutes. There is no space for key moments to breathe and explore the emotions, whether sadness or fear. All the action happens out of nowhere, all the drama happens out of nowhere. Everything just happens with no rhyme or reason.
What’s worst of all is how this fits into the whole timeline, which is to say it doesn’t. While the first two movies were set in the same universe as the ones set in the 2000s, the end of “Days of Future Past” splits the timeline and creates a whole new series of events.
Now, fans are stuck with a mediocre finale to an increasingly disappointing series. At least we still have Deadpool and Wolverine.