I Weep For Cinema

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Going into this movie, I was already well aware of some of the issues with it. One that is was going to kill off some characters and be an end-cap for this version of the X-Men movies.I also knew it was regarded as one of the worst movies this year and easily the worst X-Men movie to come out in the last 20 years (Origins doesn’t count). So I didn’t have high hopes for it. Especially at under 2 hours, this movie, in my mind was going to be a “I have nothing else better to do, let’s get this out of the way” type of experience. 

For all the crap this movie does wrong, I’m actually going to try and focus on the positives and what I liked first and foremost. The first scene with Jean Grey as a kid not able to control her power was well done from an effects standpoint. Seeing the car crash in great detail and the destruction of such a horrific scene is always weird yet cinematically beautiful when shot in slow motion. 

I also actually enjoyed the smaller scope of the movie as well. In the superhero genre there is always an end of the world catastrophic nature to the plot. The fate of the world or sometimes the entire universe hinges on the good guys defeating the bad guys. Near the end it does lean more towards the end of the world, but for the majority of the time, it is dealing with one mutant who isn’t really causing all that much trouble. 

The fight scenes (Except the last one) basically take place on a street, with very little property damage. A few cars crashed, a house or two’s outer walls ripped up and some street damage. That’s about it. It doesn’t go out all with this movie. No gigantic set pieces where the Golden Gate bridge is ripped apart, no underwater catacombs flooded… just some minor, mostly cosmetic damage that would be fixed within a few months. 

And that’s really all I can think of that was good. Sadly there are some major issues with this film, and it is probably going to be different that the issues most have with it.  The first thing that I will say is the age of everyone involved makes this movie hard to take seriously. I know that’s a bit weird, but honestly. These are still children, and it’s one of the issues I had with First Class when that came out too. The entire cast is just horribly cast. James McAvoy is around 20 years too young to be Professor X and Michale Fassbender is somewhere in his late 40s. These two don’t look like equals, these always have looked more like father and son and it’s weird. I never once bought Magneto, Xaviar, Beast and Mystique fourway love square. Because they are all different ages and it comes off as fake and unbelievable. 

Same thing with Beast, Mystique, Nightcrawler, Cyclops and Jean. They look like high schoolers, and hearing them talk and act just doesn’t feel real or believable. The age is extremely inconsistent and varies wildly. So much, that I can’t take them seriously. These aren’t friends and colleges, these are groups that have nothing in common with each other. 

The dialogue doesn’t help with that either. I’m not looking up who wrote this, because it’s clear is some 17 year old kid who is in his jr. year of high school and just experienced his first breakup. Wow, just wow… it’s so bland and bad that I honestly can’t fathom how this got greenlit. Every line is so basic, that know what they are going to say before they say it. When Cyclops watches Jean absorb the cosmic being known to true comic fans as the Phoenix Force (not what the film just calls solar flares) and they bring her lifeless body back on board and she somehow miraculously wakes up, guess what the first line is out of Cyclops’ mouth? “I thought I lost you” Yeah… anyone could have wrote that… because thousands have!! It’s in so many movies that it should have it’s own trope page. 

The acting doesn’t fare any better. So many line deliveries are stilted and forced that this movie feels like it was directed by Ed Wood. Just shoot it once and whatever came out is what is being printed and moving on! I’m not a huge Jennifer Lawrence fan, but watching the Hunger Game movies for the first time last year was fun and I actually thought she did a really good job, especially for someone who just kinda came out of nowhere. But here, it’s like an entirely different actress. She never came across as a good Mystique, but did fine by these B team X-men movies. However every line read is so filled with distraction that it’s clear she wasn’t giving it her all.  And who could blame her?

The script, not just the dialogue, but the plot, and writing is so hamfisted that it really doesn’t even know who these characters really are. No one uses their powers. Beast is just a normal pretty boy 90% of the movie and has the intellect of an average college student. Jean can awkwardly lift herself in the air and silently float away like Poochy, and Mystique changes herself to look like J-Law throughout most of her screen time. The only person who actually uses their powers is Nightcrawler, but is again portrayed by some lanky awkward high school geek that you forget he is there half of the time. 

No one is in costume, no one acts like themselves, it’s a teen angst “coming of age” story more than any superhero movie. And that is where I feel most people find fault in this. The big bad guy of the movie isn’t Jean, it isn’t the Phoenix Force, nor is it Magneto and the Brotherhood, not even humans…. It’s some gender-bent cosplay of one of the albino twins from The Matrix Reloaded. Who is explained as an alien race who wants to control the Phoenix Force and conquer Earth, in some throwaway line in a typical “Woe is me” bar scene. The bad guy is never given a name, so there is no attachment and the actress shows no emotion at all which makes it really hard to invest into the characters when no one on screen seems like a real human or even a living breathing entity. Instead we get husks of flesh that move like puppets without breathing life into them.

This movie falls into a very similar slice of cinema, where instead of giving us what we want, the suits at Fox gave us what they think we want. Which is teens being sad. That’s all this movie is. This isn’t a comic book movie, it’s a sequel to any mid-aughts tween movie about someone not fitting in and finding that their differences are their strengths. I found myself thinking of Spider-Man 3 a lot while watching Dark Phoenix. As much as I enjoy the campiness of Black Suit Spidey in that movie, I do agree it was the wrong direction to go with. Because no one calls him Black Suit Spidey, they call him Emo-Spidey, and thats exactly what we get here, Emo-Jean. Instead of a all powerful cosmic force, she is a typical teenage girl with wild mood swings, and I’m honestly surprised they didn’t have a scene with her eating ice cream out of the carton while watching a cheesy romantic comedy on the couch. Because that’s exactly what that character would do in this movie. 

Take away Nightcrawler, take away the space scene and this is barely recognized as a comic book movie.It’s just sad. And that’s exactly what you get when you cast early 20 somethings in roles they can’t portray properly. They are just too young. I said it in First Class, and the only reason why Days of Future Past was good (besides the Rogue Cut, because I can’t foresee that movie making any sense without Rouge) is because you had people in roles that made sense. Wolverine, Rouge and Captain Picard MAKE that movie. Because everyone else is a kid, yet written like they have 40+ years of super hero and life experience, and they don’t. They are too young to understand everything that is going on. This could have been retitled X-Men Babies, and I would understand it better.

I’m not a fan of live action films just googling “What’s the best _____ comic” (insert comic book hero they are making a movie for) and just taking that story and telling it in live action. Also when we already got this story back in 2006. I was always baffled by this newer version of the X-Men. It seemed like a prequel story, and it was, kinda. Having Picard and Jean Valjean be critical in Days of Future Past made these connect. So making this last one just throw everything they did out the window just shows how much this movie doesn’t care about anything. To have a proper franchise of movies, from both a critical and commercial standpoint, you have to have consistency. Apparently this film just forgot about having a continuity supervisor. Mystique can’t die if she has to be Senator Kelly in the 1999 movie. 

The Dark Phoenix saga is about Jean coming in contact with a cosmic force that she can’t control. One that will destroy countless worlds and cause mass genocide. Here, Jean cries in an alley and attends a forest rave… like a teen. There is zero reverence for the source material. Zero reverence for these characters who have been established in pop culture for decades and it feels like the reigns of this movie were handed over to someone who’s never even picked up a comic book and it shows. 

I love the X-Men movies. Even with bombs like Origins and Apocalypse, they’ve been generally good, fun and most of all true to the characters. With Dark Phoeonix, it kills this franchise for the immediate future. And honestly I’m glad. We don’t need more comic book movies tossed out every few months. There is fatigue sitting in from even the most die hard comic fans. Everything is a comic movie or show now. And most of them are terrible. There is the odd ball here or there, but it’s oversaturation and when that happens, quality gets thrown to the back burner. How many of these have you seen?

 Jessica Jones (All Seasons) Luke Cage (All Seasons, Daredevil (All Seasons) Iron Fist, The Defenders, Cloak and Dagger, Swamp Thing, Agents of Shield, Agent Peggey Carter, The Flash, Arrow, Gotham, Super Girl, Legends of Tomorrow, Legion, The Runaways, The Punisher, The Tick, Walking Dead, Riverdale, Inhumans, Fear of the walking dead, Doom Patrol, Powerless, The Boys, Wynonna Earp, The Gifted, Umbrella Academy…. Most of those all started within the last handful of years. It’s too much and it’s time to give it a break. Let is rest for a while and bring back a few that are well written, acted well and we can have another renaissance.