By the Time She Gets to Dark Phoenix

‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ is Less Powerful Than You Can Ever Imagine

I saw the X-Men: Dark Phoenix movie. It’s like someone took an X-Men comic book, cut out every third panel,  used Wite-Out on the dialogue balloons, and replaced them with either “you are more powerful than you know” or “remember who you are.” Scenes barely track from one to the next. You can barely discern character motivations through the minor-key fog.

X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Simon Kinberg
Written by: Simon Kinberg
Starring: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jessica Chastain, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence
Running time: 114 min


In one scene, Jean Grey sobs in a rain-drenched alley, looking up at the sky and moaning “I don’t know what is happening to me!!!” The next, she floats over to an island where Magneto appears to be running a farm with a bunch of burly goat-men who live in stacked repurposed shipping containers. Then she goes to a bar disguised as an old man so no one can recognize her. But someone does. So instead she meets up with some aliens in a nice Manhattan brownstone. A bedroom conveniently transforms into an IMax planetarium to reveal Jean’s galactic fate.

Three blue people and four white people head off to space in ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’.

That confounding sequence takes about 15 minutes. The movie runs two hours. And it depends entirely on Sophie Turner’s stylings as Jean Grey.  She becomes Dark Phoenix while saving the Space Shuttle around the year 1992. She swallows an intergalactic plasma cloud of some sort, apparently “the most powerful force in the universe.” I don’t know why she swallowed the cloud. I guess she’ll die. But she doesn’t. Regardless, Turner doesn’t have the chops to carry off “most powerful force in the universe”. She has three modes in Dark Phoenix: blank, teenage sad, and chin-up serious, though she is quite good at floating up into the air. It gets old.

But Turner barely qualifies in this movie’s Bad Acting Olympics. The cast replaces excellent movie stars like James Marsden, Halle Berry, and Alan Cumming with teenagers who couldn’t pass their Riverdale auditions. Nicholas Hoult is flat-out awful as The Beast, a scientific genius who is also a terrifying blue monster. Hoult always appears constipated, except for a scene where he gets drunk. Then he looks like he’s pooping. And his Beast get-up makes him look like a furry. This Beast doesn’t even have one back.

Meanwhile, Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain plays the leader of a group of aliens who are like Groot crossed with The Terminator. For her part, she looks like an Elf remainder from The Lord Of The Rings.  As the movie’s villain, she’s bent on, get this, destroying the Earth. But she goes about her business blankly and stupidly, with not a shred of wit. Thanos would have snapped her away before breakfast.

Michael Fassbender, as Magneto, mostly salvages his scenes, but he actually has the power of magnetism. James McAvoy deals with a lot of bad dialogue as Professor X, but he at least seems like he showed up to work. You can’t say the same thing about Jennifer Lawrence, who plays “Raven.”

Jennifer Lawrence, at her most emotive.

In the original X-Men movies, we knew “Raven” as “Mystique,”  an awesome amoral shape-shifter with some incredible martial arts moves. In this movie, she shape-shifts once, from blue Jennifer Lawrence back to blond Jennifer Lawrence. Her only powers appear to be wooden line readings and lightly feminist hectoring. Alert the Academy’s Oscar-revokal bureau, this is the worst performance of the year. Lawrence drains this movie, and the movies in the five surrounding theaters, of all life. Rebecca Romijn’s Mystique could kick her back to the swamps from which she emerged.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix contains one exploding helicopter, one exploding house, a few exploding cars, several train derailments, gunplay that’s useless against mutants who can control time and the weather, and lots and lots of fire. The action scenes are by far the best part. Some of them are genuinely exciting. But there aren’t nearly enough. It’s mostly just boring talk about destiny, punctuated by zero jokes.

This will be the last X-Men movie before the Marvel Cinematic Universe swallows up the X-Men mythology, perhaps injecting the franchise with a bit of twinkle and irony. That would be nice. I just hope they include Magneto’s mutant henchman, who fights with his steel dreadlocks. That dude was awesome, they should give him his own movie.

He’s more powerful than he will ever know.

I shall call him Brillo.

This concludes my review of the X-Men: Dark Phoenix movie.


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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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