Director: Simon Kinberg
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner
Have I Seen it Before: This is usually the part in these reviews where I make a joke about how a film is entirely too much like what came before it for me to label it a truly new experience. It will be incredibly difficult to not make a remark like that here.
Did I Like It: As much as I tried to avoid that above refrain, try as I might, I can’t say I’m 100 percent on board with this.
There should be a moratorium on adapting year-long epic comic book arcs into movies that can not (by studio mandate) run over 180 minutes of screen time. Superman movies have failed over a couple of formats to harness whatever was interesting about the death and rebirth of the Last Son of Krypton. Batman even managed to stumble a little bit trying to mash together Knightfall, No Man’s Land, and The Dark Knight Returns in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). And now the X-Men series have failed twice to capture the Dark Phoenix saga after two tries in less than fifteen years. These stories need longer to breath, which is why, ironically enough the most effective adaptation of the Phoenix saga actually occurs in the sixth season of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.”
I’m not sure if Dark Phoenix fails as aggressively as X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), but it certainly trips up in new ways. The story is listless, being somewhat about an alien invasion story, and somewhat about the same set of characters we met in X-Men: First Class (2006). Matters are not helped by Hans Zimmer appearing to phone in his score, where 20th Century Fox (and now, presumably, Disney) fully owns the rousing John Ottman scores from the better films in this series.
There are some things to enjoy, here. McAvoy and Fassbender still prove equal to the task of filling the shoes of Stewart and McKellan. To be fair, that’s probably more praise for the team behind the sprightly X-Men: First Class (2011) than the work performed here. Some have indicated that Fassbender looks bored in the role, but I would counter that he’s doing the best he can with a script that doesn’t seem that interested in him anymore. How they got Fassbender (and for that matter, Lawrence) to extend their contracts into this movie is beyond me. Maybe the proceedings looked different before the film became engulfed in the flames of the dread reshoot entity.
Also, the opening moments are kind of sweet, with the X-Men being national heroes for the first time in their own film series. Gone are the days when they hide in the shadow. In fact, the President has a direct line to Xavier’s study. It put me—in the early goings—of thinking of how far this film series has come in nineteen years, now that it’s ending. Gone are the days where this series was trying to be a character drama that needed someone like Bryan Singer to make it at all comprehensible to film audiences, and now we’re fine flying into space and doing combat with cosmic forces. What a long, strange trip it has been.
If only it all came together a bit better. Ah, well. We’ll still have Logan (2017)*. Wait, is this the first X-Men movie to not feature Hugh Jackman at all? Weird. That may have been part of the problem.
*Which, by the way, this movie sort of absent-mindedly pisses all over the admittedly byzantine continuity set by the previous films. Logan can’t be the future of the original timeline established in the first three films in the series. That much is clear. As of the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), it would seem like Logan belongs in that new timeline, extended into X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) and concluded here. But this film has Xavier retiring to play Chess with Magneto in France (for reasons, I guess) so I’m not sure how Xavier re-joins the school he built before the deterioration of his mind. And, I’m almost relieved to say, we will never have the opportunity to reconcile these multiple discontinuities. So, the lesson becomes that even when I try to dwell on the brighter moments of this series, this film only suffers all the more.