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Posted at: Jun 5, 2019, 8:32 PM; last updated: Jun 5, 2019, 8:32 PM (IST)MOVIE REVIEW - X MEN: DARK PHOENIX

Rising again…but not at its peak

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Film: X men: Dark Phoenix

  • Cast: Sophie Turner, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Tye Sheridan. Jessica Chastain, Evan Peters, Nicholas Hoult, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Hannah Emily Anderson
  • Director: Simon Kinberg
Rising again…but not at its peak
A still from X men: Dark Phoenix

Johnson Thomas

X men Dark Phoenix, the swan song for the current series, is a passable entertainer – definitely much better than the recent The Last Stand and one that came before — Apocalypse. But it’s not all smooth sailing. The story itself is well known in the telly universe even though it’s not had a full run in the cinematic one. A new character Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, the Game of Thrones’ heroine) gets to entirely hog the limelight while the better known X men (Raven, Magneto, Storm, Dr X) literally play second fiddles.  

The Dark Phoenix saga has a classic story arc written by Chris Claremont and drawn by John Byrne, and is considered to be one of the most iconic Marvel tales of all time. Certainly much more was expected from its cinematic adaptation. The narrative here focuses on Jean Grey, Professor Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) prized pupil who finds her powers of telekinesis and telepathy going haywire following an exposure to a cosmic flare-up during an outer space rescue mission. It drives her to the brink of insanity, making her a liability to the X men and a potential ally for alien races (led by Jessica Chastain) seeking to harness her all-powerful destructive energy. 

 Writer-director Simon Kinberg’s film, set a decade after the events depicted in X Men Apocalypse, takes a rather direct approach, telling the Dark Phoenix story minus the character bonding and emotional heft. 

  We’ve never seen Sophie Turner as Jean Grey before so it’s a little difficult to buy into her closeness to other X men characters who we are acquainted with quite intimately by now. The kinship shown between Jean and other X Men feels rather farcical. Mystique/Raven’s compassion for Jean’s plight doesn’t get the conviction it deserves because of the shallow writing. Their shared history is obviously and conspicuously missing from the entire cinema series. 

Jean’s encounter with cosmic forces puts her in an unenviable position of an unwitting enemy to her own ilk. The bit about her childhood trauma is also shoddily presented – it does little to endear her to the audience. 

The narrative attempts to raise moral, ethical and gender equality issues through meaningless, perfunctory dialogues that never find satisfactory resolution in the visual mark-up on screen. The dramatic arcs are underdeveloped and the rush into action doesn’t feel altogether satisfying. Xavier’s attempts to curry favour with humans while putting the X men at risk, doesn’t come across as totally egoistic either. The narrative dialogue may critique male hegemony while espousing that the women do all the hard work with less recognition coming their way – but eventually even that appears to be mere tokenism. In the film, Jean Grey, as the woman whose childhood memories have been diabolically suppressed, may eventually get revenge but as a consequence she also gets labelled as an unhinged villain. The glorified optics are never supported by unassailable depth.

 It’s all so facile and fragile that an alien wind can sweep it all under a carpet of climactic miasma. The fights here (other than the opening outer space rescue mission) are largely about control, rewarding the follower, ostracising the unique and how an organisation seeks to keep its internal bickering under wraps. The performances are all consistently intense but the hollow characterizations dissolve that benefit into nothingness. The camerawork, VFX, CGI combine well-enough to present a vivid, tempestuous action engagement. The costumes and make-up are strikingly definitive. But despite the technical highs X Men Dark Phoenix doesn’t really touch you emotionally. X men Dark Phoenix may not have any boring, lethargy inducing stretches but it doesn’t have anything memorable to offer either. 

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