Rating: 3.25 of 5
I went into Dark Phoenix with fairly low expectations. Other than James McAvoy I wasn’t in love with the cast. And it’s a story Fox has tried to do before. With one of my favorite characters. And, despite box office success, few of the X-Men movies have really been spectacular (Days of Future Past is pretty much the exception).
Also while I love Jean Grey, I’m only familiar with the Dark Phoenix saga through wikipedia (and honestly I read through the Endsong rather than Dark Phoenix years ago because it’s gorgeous.
Which means Dark Phoenix was either going to be dismal or rise above what I expected. And it kind of did both.
As far as the story goes, I thought it was rather decent. It seemed to hold closer to Dark Phoenix elements, with the trip into space and that Jean wasn’t actually all powerful but the force inside her amplified her powers.
Even down to the nuance of Jessica Chastain resembling Emma Frost (who was a significant part of at least Endsong). Apparently, Xavier putting up the mental blocks is a part of the story and one I never really liked about it. It always seemed quite out of character. But in this film they gave it sufficient motivation and it almost worked with his contrition (almost).
It was a bit interesting to read Simon Kinberg talk about that aspect of Professor X.
[James McAvoy and I] had talked in the past, not specifically about this movie, about the notion that there is an ego drive involved with this character [Prof. X], and a patriarchal side to a man who names a superhero team after the first letter of his last name. He lives in a mansion and feels that he has the right or the wisdom to define the fates and the identities of these kids around him. There was something about that that was obviously benevolent and paternal, and there was something about it that could tip into something that was a little patriarchal and domineering.
And I supposed I get that – the potential for that sort of benevolent control is in the character. And it’s the sort of thing that you might see in a younger version of the character that he then learns and grows to the more wise, kind side of it. But it’s never been explored (that I’ve seen in film or tv) so it still felt out of place.
I also liked that they brought in a new protagonist so that, while Jean was fighting herself, there was another focal point for them to fight and ultimately destroy (spoiler…sort of… I mean it’s not like you expect the bad guys to win).
The performances were all pretty good. It was interesting to see, especially Mystique, in a grounded, mature version of the character. As far as evolutions for the character from First Class it was fairly interesting. And oddly highlighted (upon reflection) that Charles and Hank have rather been those sort of mature characters from the beginning. They’ve changed in their own ways (especially Hank in this one) but none of it is nearly as interesting as Days of Future Past so it seems… pale.
In the end, if would have been a surprisingly decent movie if it weren’t for the directing. The action was a bit too quick and a bit too dark – not quite as sharp and awesome as it could have been.
And I don’t know if it seemed amateur or simply poor taste but for all the emotion, and the strong performances, the shots were unengaging. There was almost 30 seconds of the back of Jessica Chastain’s head. And I kept thinking, “This is boring. This doesn’t tell us a thing about what’s happening, or the story, or the character, and it isn’t even visually interesting.” And then there were the close ups. Oh my gosh, I don’t know if Simon Kinberg thought getting the camera right in the actor’s faces would draw the audience into the emotion more but having an entire conversation with Michael Fassbender’s face filling the entire theater screen drew me out of the emotion and out of the story. It happened throughout several scenes and just ruined the entire moment. I read an article in The Hollywood Report where Kinberg, quite valiantly, took responsibility for the audience not connecting with the film and I thought, “Yup – right there – those close ups – those were your downfall.”
Which probably isn’t entirely true. There was probably franchise fatigue. And several release date pushes which landed it squarely in the cross-fire of the Disney acquisition. On a summer weekend when it was designed to be an early spring release with no competition.
But the crazy close ups didn’t help. The performances are the only saving grace because they almost warrant that sort of attention. In the midst of subtle, pretty cool visual effects the characters and their dynamics are the heart of this story and that’s the reason it works as well as it does.