June 07, 2019 – Vinz Lamorena
Well, Marvel had to screw up at one point.
Sure, it’s easy to dismiss it as another Fox superhero film that flopped, but such great injustice have been committed against the mutants (yet again). As the credits of “Dark Phoenix” took over the emptiness of the screen, my brows were knit in a tight furrow, wondering which element of the film’s convoluted plot I can tag as the culprit of its demise.
Perhaps the high expectations for the film were rooted in the fact that Simon Kinberg was in control, the so-called X-Men architect in the realm of films. However, his directorial debut was riddled with muddled motivations for each character, that is, if they weren’t tossed in the sidelines.
Jean Grey’s transmutation into the Dark Phoenix felt flat. In the simplest words of the English language: It was boring. But it certainly didn’t feel that way in the beginning—the first moments of the film showed promise, depicting the poignance of trauma and feeling of isolation embedded in the character’s origin story.
Except they cut that narrative short. They give us another emotive and moving Charles X. Xavier speech—in which he tells Jean: “You are not broken”—to close that chapter. The film jumps immediately to the mutants donning their iconic X-Men jumpsuits, putting their lives at risk as they go on a space mission.
Jean is told to deflect a solar flare that threatened to consume American astronauts. This is where she encounters the cosmic force that inevitably changes her life. She did the impossible: Survive an annihilation of pure, unprecedented power.
Later, this mystical force is revealed to be capable of taking away life from planets and has the ability to build them back up. In a sense, Grey stumbled upon the power of creation, where she can turn things into dust and breathe life into dust. The problem is, we don’t see its growth in Jean’s character, only her rapid spiraling to anger.
Don’t get the wrong idea, Sophie Turner was great. In her subtle hesitation, you sensed fear. Her fierceness was as unbreakable as the surging of Grey’s power. But even great acting cannot redeem a character from a plot that doesn’t make her worthy of saving.
It’s not the first time we’ve heard of Professor X (James McAvoy) messing with Grey’s mind (review: “X-Men: The Last Stand”), all done in the business of protecting her. She has always been one of Professor X’s most prized students as they share the power of telepathy—only she is much stronger and Charles is fully aware of that. He carefully mapped walls in her mind that repressed anger and shielded her from pain—and it’s always this kind of inhibition that backfires.
Grey’s mutation was altered after absorbing the cosmic force and forged a formidable yet uncontrollable power within her, shattering the barriers in her memories that coerced feelings of betrayal. While part of her is fueled by pent up anger, there were moments her character showed unnecessary cruelty, only to be immediately replaced by vexing heroism.
“Dark Phoenix” has divided attention. It splits itself into three story lines that have difficulty aligning themselves. Charles was painted as an egotistic villain, there were obscure extraterrestrial creatures who threaten Earth’s extinction, and a phoenix whose rising from the ashes was nowhere near inspiring.
The messy plot also left Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) to fall blindly into the trappings of vengeance. How these logical and mature characters were allowed to move according to such cliché motivations was just plain disheartening. At least they were both given great action scenes.
But there were also three things worth noting in this film. For one, Charles X. Xavier was once again stripped of his purity and glory as he admitted to his calculated moves that aimed for society’s acceptance. It also featured a handful sassy zingers served by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and introduced a recognizable warmth in the relationship between Grey and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan)—even if these aspects were both shown in such fleeting moments.
What could have been a defying exploration of purpose and a redemption of one’s self was left to become a cheesy story about one’s loyalty to the family found in the X-Men circle. Yeah, you guessed it: Same old, same old.
The X-Men deserved a better ending—dammit, “Days of Future Past” could’ve been the franchise’s version of Endgame instead.
Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox. “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” is now showing in theaters nationwide.
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