Review: I Spent a Dollar to See Dark Phoenix and That Was Still Too Much

(Note: this review was previously posted on Letterboxd. Here is a version for the Avocado, with pictures included.)

Earlier this week, I watched Irving Lerner’s masterful noir Murder by Contract. It’s one of those movies that could have just been a cheap quickie that’s easily forgotten about but, thanks to Lerner’s stylish directing, it’s fantastic. I bring it up because Dark Phoenix is the anti-Murder by Contract; it was made for more money than Irving Lerner probably ever saw, is loaded with great actors, is based on one of the most popular comic stories of all time, and it’s complete fucking garbage.

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Now, there are some good aspects to it. The space rescue at the beginning was kinda fun and I wish more of the film was like this instead of the glowering mess that makes up the rest of the film. Michael Fassbender is great, as always, but Nicholas Hoult is the true standout of the film. He brilliantly conveys Hank’s grief and rage throughout the film. My little War Boy has done good.

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(witness him)

Sophie Turner is OK in the film when Jean’s not angry. When she does get angry, Turner’s already hilariously bad American accent breaks even more. Alas, she spends most of the film angry.

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It’s genuinely kind of amazing how much James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence don’t care about the movie that they’re in. Then again, I can’t blame them; they clearly checked out towards the end of Days of Future Past and they just want to do better things. Also, the scene where Raven says “They should call us the X-Women” is hilariously bad. Anyone that complained about the girl power scene in Endgame should be forced to watch this, at least that scene was cool.

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Jessica Chastain is one of the greatest actresses working today but you wouldn’t know it from this film… or at least from most of the scenes. Dark Phoenix is clearly a Frankenfilm, cobbled together from different cuts and Chastain is at her best when she’s one-on-one with Turner. I’ve heard some rumors that Chastain’s character was originally going to be a Tyler Durden-esque figment of Jean’s imagination and, based on the movie, I completely believe it.

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Also, Nightcrawler, Storm, and Cyclops are in the movie too. I’d say more about them but that would mean thinking about more than the movie did. All three of them left more of an impression in X-Men: The Last Stand than they did in here (and Nightcrawler wasn’t even in The Last Stand).

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But, by far, the worst thing about the film is Simon Kinberg. He wrote and directed this crime against humanity. He also wrote X-Men: The Last Stand. Yes, they hired the same guy who fucked up the Dark Phoenix Saga 13 years ago and he somehow fucked it up even more than he did before. Not since Colin Trevorrow has such utter mediocre risen this far. This is his directorial debut and, if there was any justice, it’d be his directorial swansong. His directing is just awful. There’s one scene that’s supposed to be shocking but is instead fucking hysterical. In it, Jean uses her powers to make Charles walk up a flight of stairs. Not only is it poorly directed, it unintentionally reminded me of this amazing comic panel:

But Kinberg’s worst directing sin isn’t actually his own: it’s Bryan Singer’s. Kinberg decided to replicate Singer’s directing style for his debut and… let’s just say that even if Bryan Singer wasn’t a complete monster, I wouldn’t want people to take cues from him. Singer is, without a doubt, the most overrated director of the last few decades (and this is coming from someone who thinks that the word “overrated” is horribly overused). He’s got very little visual style, preferring flat and boring shots. And he’s clearly ashamed of directing a comic book movie. Some will accuse Christopher Nolan of feeling the same way but he clearly doesn’t. There’s a difference between treating your source seriously (like Nolan did, as well as James Mangold did on Logan) and being ashamed of what you’re working on, which is what Singer did. Kinberg upholds this best-left-forgotten tradition with disastrous results.

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As a whole, the mainline X-Men franchise was mostly a dud (the spin-offs were great, aside from the clearly fucked over X-Men Origins: Wolverine). There great ones (First Class and X2, despite the latter being directed by Singer), OK ones (X-Men and Days of Future Past), and complete disasters (the rest). I’m not looking forward to the MCU absorbing the X-Men but at least it’s snuffing out this sorry franchise for good. Gotta look on the brightside.