DIR: Simon Kinberg • WRI:John Byrne, Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Simon Kinberg DOP: Mauro Fiore • ED: Lee Smith • PRO: Todd Hallowell, Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner • DES: Claude Paré • MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patiño, Elena Campbell-Martinez
It never bodes well when a film gets a press screening the day before it is to be unleashed on the public, being optimistic I thought maybe it’s some kind of bluff. Then I saw the rest of my press-screening invite telling me that all comments and reviews were embargoed until 7am on the day of the film’s unleashing. A double bluff, I optimistically thought. No such luck I’m afraid.
Dark Phoenix arrives with less than a whimper; the much delayed and rumoured-to-be-a troubled production, fails on nearly all fronts as a piece of glossy summer entertainment. With the best of goodwill from the most ardent fan it might work but for everyone else it is going to be a proverbial damp squib.
The plot concerns itself with the justly famous Dark Phoenix saga presented in the pages of X-Men back in the seventies, courtesy of comic legends Chris Claremont and John Byrne in the days before Watchmen came along and inadvertently turned things upside down. The only similarity between this film and its source material is Jean Gray’s struggle with a newfound omnipotent power and rival aliens fighting for said power. All the original space-opera glory of the comic book only gets a brief nod when the X-Men go into space (not outer jut the bit outside the ozone layer), to save some astronauts from the space anomaly that is going to be the source of Jean’s and everyone else’s woes.
Set in 1992 to no good effect whatsoever, Charles Xavier’s X-people are media darlings and on the presidential hotline and yes, it does involve a bat phone type scenario, albeit without the humour; humour is very thin on the ground and when attempted falls squarely on its arse. Charles Xavier is seen to be losing the run of himself, a man verging on the pompous and thinking he knows better than everyone else using his protégés as his propaganda machine to maintain the love for mutant kind. The emotional heart of the story concerns Xavier doing what he thinks is best for Jean without concern for his right to do so when he suppresses a bad memory or two. One anomaly later and Jean is all powerful and losing the run of herself, meanwhile aliens have come to earth to gain the said power – you get the picture.
The bulk of the story sits on Jean’s shoulders relegating everyone else to perfunctory supporting roles and character development that would be shameful in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The whole thing is remnant of a seventies television show that knows it has a good formula that doesn’t need changing; that is until it does. The set pieces offer very little excitement or originality, except for the first scene in space, elsewhere it is a strong feeling of déjà vu featuring telepathic battles, upturned cars, an attack on a train and my favourite, trying to cross the road… not a word of a lie.
So many lost opportunities are apparent watching the hamster-wheel mentality unfold. The cinema sins on show are so obvious it seems surprising that no one saw any of the issues with the story at a much earlier stage. At the helm of this trainwreck – that also features a trainwreck – is writer, director Simon Kinberg, a man who has been part of the franchises lesser works including co-writer on X-Men: Last Stand, the original attempt at adapting the Dark Phoenix storyline, the mind boggles.
12A (see IFCO for details)
X-Men: Dark Phoenix is released 5th June 2019