Review: Simon Kinberg's 'X-Men: Dark Phoenix' Goes Down in Flames

June 6, 2019

Dark Phoenix Review

Written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Byrne, the "Dark Phoenix" saga is one of the most enduring storylines in the history of Marvel Comics. First published in Uncanny X-Men #129-138 (1980), the iconic story follows Jean Grey's transformation from gifted mutant into a god-like cosmic entity known as the "Phoenix". In 2006, screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn adapted elements of the story for Brett Ratner's sequel X-Men: The Last Stand with mixed results. Now thirteen years later, Kinberg is taking another stab at adapting the classic tale with Dark Phoenix, the twelfth installment in Fox's seemingly-never-ending X-Men film series. A direct sequel to Bryan Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), the film is the final installment of the main X-Men saga after The Walt Disney Company's acquisition of 20th Century Fox.

It's 1992 – the same year that X-Men: The Animated Series debuted on Fox Kids – and the X-Men are called upon by the current President of the United States to rescue the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, whose mission has been jeopardized by an astronomical phenomenon. Led by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), the team reaches the damaged spacecraft and recovers the astronauts but loses one of their own in the process. During the mission, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner of HBO's "Game of Thrones") absorbs the Phoenix Force, a mysterious cosmic entity described as "the embodiment of the very passion of Creation—the spark that gave life to the Universe, the flame that will ultimately consume it." Reborn as the Phoenix, Jean Grey returns to Earth with powers beyond her understanding or her control.

Complicating matters is the fact that secrets about her past—truths kept from her by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) – are soon uncovered, making Jean emotionally unstable and increasingly destructive. Enter Vuk (Jessica Chastain), a new villainess who encourages Jean to abandon her humanity and give in to her darkest urges. Now the current X-Men – including Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) – and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), of course – must unite to stop Jean before she destroys humanity.

Dark Phoenix Review

Dark Phoenix is, to use the parlance of our times, a hot mess. Kinberg's directorial debut is a dull rehash of X-Men: The Last Stand – one of the long-running franchise's worst entries anyway – complete with baffling out-of-character moments, cringe-worthy dialogue, and lots of contrived conflict. The movie doubles down on the idea that Xavier manipulated Jean's mind and suppressed her abilities, emotions, and memories for "her own good." Xavier – who should be an altruistic person who strives to serve the greater good – is depicted as a self-serving schemer who risks the lives of his students for a chance to hobnob with the elite.

In The Last Stand, it's Magneto who plays the devil on Jean's shoulder, urging her to eradicate mankind so mutants can inherit the Earth. This time around, it's Vuk – a shapeshifting alien who, you guessed it, wants Jean to perform a hard reboot on the planet so her species, the D'bari, can move in. The Oscar-nominated Chastain tries, but Vuk and her business casual-clad henchmen might be the most generic, underwhelming, and all-around uninteresting baddies in recent history. As for Jean, Sophie Turner does a perfectly adequate job of channeling Famke Janssen's Dark Phoenix, but she's undermined by a script that has absolutely nothing new or interesting to say about the character – she's just the same ol' Redhead Possessed By Evil Space Bird™, decked out in a Stylish Maroon Leather Trench™, hurting the ones she loves most.

Dark Phoenix Review

Jean isn't the only member of the X-Men to go dark, though. At one point, Cyclops threatens Magneto by saying, "I'll fucking kill you." Nightcrawler snaps a dude's neck with his tail. (Fuckin' sick, bro.) It's like X-Men: The Last Stand went out for dinner and drinks with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, invited it back over to their place, put on some Hans Zimmer, turned down the lights, and made a Very Stupid Baby™. In addition to being a retread of The Last Stand, Dark Phoenix is also a bootleg of Captain Marvel. Both movies are set in the 1990s, with a hero who can't remember her past, who absorbs an insane amount of cosmic energy and becomes all-powerful, and is then pursued by shapeshifting aliens.

It's contrived, derivative, and entirely joyless, but Dark Phoenix's biggest sin is that it's boring. Beyond the space shuttle rescue, the rest of the film's action set pieces are entirely forgettable. Perhaps it's because the movie takes place primarily in school hallways, suburban homes, trains, and hotels. There is one new location – a place X-Men fans have wanted to see on-screen for 19 years – but when we finally get there, it looks like a farming community out of The Walking Dead. In addition to the uninspired production design, the X-Men's matching uniforms are the dullest superhero costumes since the black leather suits in Bryan Singer's original film. The special effects look equally as cheap. There isn't really a single eye-catching thing about this movie, which is crazy considering it's about a bunch of mutants fighting a bunch of space aliens over a Redhead Possessed By Evil Space Bird™.

Needless to say, I did not have a good time with Kinberg's Dark Phoenix. While it isn't as bad as X-Men Origins: Wolverine (what could be?), it's tied with X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Apocalypse for the worst installment in the main series. Who would've thought that one of the co-writers of The Last Stand would essentially remake his own movie 13 years later and it would be just as bad as his first attempt? That's the most infuriating thing about this whole debacle – no one learned anything from the mistakes of the past. In 1980's Uncanny X-Men #137, Jean Grey explains to her true love Scott Summers: "Jean to Phoenix to Dark Phoenix – a progression as inevitable as death." How fitting for Fox's franchise to go out on this note – rising from the ashes only to go down in flames. It was inevitable, I guess.

Adam's Rating: 1.5 out of 5
Follow Adam on Twitter - @AdamFrazier

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Adam, these are my favorite quotes from your review: "Dark Phoenix is, to use the parlance of our times, a hot mess." and my absolute favorite: "It's like X-Men: The Last Stand went out for dinner and drinks with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, invited it back over to their place, put on some Hans Zimmer, turned down the lights, and made a Very Stupid Baby™." I don't think I've ever seen a review of yours where you didn't pull any punches. I figured this would be bad and I'm kind of glad this happened sooner than later. I rest easy knowing Fox no longer can crank out these abominations and I can't WAIT to see what Disney/Marvel do with this franchise. Hopefully they do it justice it sorely needs. And Simon Kinberg needs to stop trying because it's evident he has no idea what he's doing.

THE_RAW_ on Jun 6, 2019


Disney/Marvel's 1st Rule should be : No More Remakes ! there's 50 years of story arcs to choose from ; Stop Insanely making the same movies and expecting different results .... The 90's decade alone should have plenty of other arcs they could have done , before this ...

Dominic on Jun 7, 2019


I need the greatest love story never told on the big screen: Gambit and Rogue. Actually, Jean and Scott in the Dark Phoenix saga was pretty epic too. Time to fire up the 90's cartoon!

THE_RAW_ on Jun 7, 2019


The Dark Phoenix saga from the 90s cartoon was definitely epic, and I thought a comic book space opera could never be made... until Guardians of the Galaxy came out. However, the greatest (Xman) love story never told on the big screen is Xavier and Magneto. It's like the Dumbledore and Grindelwald of mutants. All joking aside, you damn well X and M are more than just besties. PS: After thinking about it, I know it's not the best love story in all of Marvel comics, but Deadpool and Shiklah would make the best movie. FYI: Shiklah is basically crazier, hornier, and scarier than Dp... that rules an underground kingdom of monsters.

Akirakorn on Jun 7, 2019


well then you have to press for them to script the story arc that has Captain Marvel "evolving " Rogue into her super-powered form . tho I doubt they'll find somebody who can pull off that look of the huge head of curly red hair ....Heavy wig ....

Dominic on Jun 7, 2019


He misread the plot and tone of the movie. Jean isn't a villain like she was in The Last Stand(as the cast and crew have stated) and she never became possessed. Not to mention all stuff he says is from X3 is actually from the comics. Xavier messing with Jean's head is a part of origin story.

Khalil on Sep 4, 2019


Obviously, you liked it. And I'm happy that you enjoyed it, but that doesn't mean Adam's opinion is wrong. It's just different. And say what you may about misreading, you're not going to change someone else's perception unless they're open to it. Thanks for sharing @Mutherphucker:disqus.

THE_RAW_ on Sep 4, 2019


I can't wait to walk out of the theater completely disappointed.

tyban81 on Jun 6, 2019


X-Men got Josh Tranked

tarek on Jun 6, 2019


Bad review I expected... but 12 X-Men films!? Runs off to 1) X-Men 2) X2: X-Men Untied 3) X-Men III: The Last Stand until Dark Phoenix 4) X-Men Origins: A pretty well-done version of Sabertooth. No really. 5) X-Men: First Class 6) The Wolverine Goes To Japan 7) X-Men: Days of they should've stayed in the Future. That part was cool 8) X-Men: Apocalypse 9) Logan deserves a sequel 12) X-Men: Darth Pheonix sigh... I guess were counting both Deadpools huh. Despite it was made by another studio (I think) and the X-People wanted nothing to do with it (for sure). I understand Logan is part of this franchise, but sticking Deadpool in this mess is a bit unfair. Also also. Wow. Half those movies center around the same 4.5 characters (half-credit to Jean Grey) telling the same story. That alone should tell you something, especially considering the X-Men universe has (a little bit) more great characters, story arcs, and places as the Marvel universe. I am including 20+ Marvel movies and like, 2-3 shows.

Akirakorn on Jun 6, 2019


4 : - a well-ACTED version of Sabretooth , even tho the physical appearance of the character in XMen was more correct . and one reason not to totally hate that movie .. 7 : - every mutant dies in that future ....and then by extension , all of humanity as every human has the genetic potential TO Mutate , Not So Cool ... 9: - I agree ...The Character of Wolverine is ubiquitous ; Mangold's next movie should be about Laura taking up that mantle , and becoming the adult female version . Maybe call her Tigra ? and have her leading those kids-now-adults as the Next X-Men ... CB story arcs Always CENTER around 1-3 characters ...just easier to story-tell , that way . Def more characters should be used to center a movie franchise around , tho ....

Dominic on Jun 7, 2019


4- Xmen made Sabretooth into a hobo. Granted Tyler Mane is a 7-footer and looked the part, but stylistically they made him a hobo. I could argue the comics had Sabertooth is human clothing more often than not, and had fashion sense, but meh. 7-yeah they died in that storyline sure, but the future setting & more mature Xmen had tons of potential. 9- Tigra? Really? That is really, really bad idea. Spoiler for anyone not familiar with the X-23/Laura character from the comics. She does take up the Wolverine mantle. Name, costume, and all. And is widely accepted as such by everyone, including future-alternate-timeline Logan (yay comics).

Akirakorn on Jun 7, 2019


problem was they made Tyler gutteral , as a comedic gag , and Sabretooth was always very literate while he was violent . Just the yellowish-white facial and head hair , would have been good , too ; the fur all over looked clownish ...he had a fur suit in the CBs , but it was open at the neck . ...Tons of potential for storylines , But all with a bad ending ..that was the point of the Original CB storyline ; Kitty Pride realizing all HUMAN death was inevitable( already being threatened ) , and looking to an alternate universe's XMen for help ..of course to our XMen she was in the alternate universe , with the 1st Old Man Logan ... Yes Tigra in the CBs wasn't that impressive BUT with some better scripting , whoever would be playing Laura could upgrade the character a bit . We already have her backstory , so the next movie with her could concentrate on her being a bad-ass adult . X-23 in the CBs originally was chasing Logan , on the orders of Ultron , but Logan convinces her to rebel against Ultron's brainwashing . and she becomes his 2nd " creation " to think independently . .. .Do we call Laura " Wolverine " ? .. That could cause some debate ....

Dominic on Jun 7, 2019


hmmm .. the 1st Question isn't how does it compare to " Last Stand " , but How does it compare to the 10 issues of Uncanny XMen ? that you noted . How faithful is it to the storyline of those CBs .. Then u judge the Entertainment value ... the First Problem , was always that the they rushed this remake , anyway ...Plenty of other " arcs " they could spotlight on , while they revealed Jean's past a bit more , setting up her "heel turn" better . Just because they foreshadowed the turn at the end of Apocalypse , didn't mean they had to make this the very next movie . Some contractural thing with Sophie ? wanting to use her before her "price" went up after GoT ends ?? One could posit , than any superhero movie premiering after Avengers: Endgame was gong to be seen as Sucking , ....but that may be too philosophical ... It's not Supposed to be a "joyful" movie tho , so that may be a bad dig at it ...its supposed to be an Apocalyptic movie . Last Stand always felt like only mutants were threatened ; this should have been scripted as affecting the whole world , esp since they were publicly asked to go into space . So its "set pieces" should have been different ...

Dominic on Jun 7, 2019


Its not a remake since Jean never becomes the Dark Phoenix.

Khalil on Sep 4, 2019


its a remake , based on the IDEA of doing the movie ... Now that's I've actually seen it , it's worse than the Last Stand Not only for the Indicated Reasons above , but also for its depiction of the Aliens . Their motivation was never fully explained , and they were horrible replacements for the Shi'Ar , who came to avenge their planet being destroyed in the Original story

Dominic on Sep 4, 2019


That’s kinda like saying Deadpool is a remake of X-Men Origins: Wolverine because they both show Wade getting abandoned by Weapon X who empower them for the purpose of using him as a slave. I have the movie on digital. They did explain their motivation, as cliched as it is.

Khalil on Sep 4, 2019


ummm no that's a horrible analogy ... the focus here is on Jean and the Phoenix Force inside of her , for BOTH movies ...whereas the Deadpool character is obv written with a different focus and intent , than in Wolverine :Origins ( being a wisecracking idiot With his powers , not before , for one ..) ..yeah their motivation is " it destroyed one of our worlds , so now we follow it around and see if we can harness it for our own destructive benefit ..." Lame ... and for HOW many years have they done this ? what's their real backstory ? ...Lack of Character development , makes you not care about their " cause " or motivations . And thus weakens the movie .... Isn't that why everyone loves how Thanos was written and acted ? because his Cause made sense , in albeit a perverse way ? Again the next movie after Endgame was going to flop , anyway ; superhero fatigue , if for any other reason . it's stillt a waste of a rewrite/redo , tho ; Hope Sophie got paid well ...It's already on cable , here

Dominic on Sep 5, 2019


There was no Phoenix Force in that movie and the focus was not on Jean but the X-Men fighting Magneto over the mutant cure. Jean was only in that movie for 10 minutes as an unwritten subplot where she did almost nothing, she never even fought the X-Men or anybody for that matter. Even Chris Claremont (the writer of the original Dark Phoenix saga) recently complained about how Jean just stood there for most of the movie staring and had only two scenes where she actually did anything. So the comparison is fair. Both Jean and Wade were not the focus in either movie.

Khalil on Sep 6, 2019


Actually , Everything you bring up is why The LAST STAND sucked as bad as it did , as an adaptation of the storyline . ...and you're forgetting that one big reason Magneto could command an army was that he had a " Rogue Jean " as his " muscle " . Because AGAIN , The movie is about what happens when JEAN Flips out , and loses control . There is no story , in either version , without that happening for whatever reason

Dominic on Sep 8, 2019


Late reply, but you’re misremembering the movie.

DevilMayhem666 on Sep 22, 2019


I'm so on board with your negativity here. Fully warranted. I can't believe they went from Days of Future Past to this trash in only 2 movies. Amazing - and I can't wait for them to get a proper Marvel reboot.

Mark on Jun 8, 2019


Its not really warranted since Jean isn't a villain in this movie like she was in The Last Stand and isn't possessed. Not to mention all the stuff he says that is reharshed from The Last Stand is actually from the comics. This is like complaining that Deadpool was a reharsh of X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Khalil on Sep 4, 2019


"Dark Phoenix is, to use the parlance of our times, a hot mess." If I might be permitted a regional colloquialism: Dark Phoenix sucked pond bottom.

Michael Wolff on Jun 11, 2019


The author here clearly didn't read the original Dark Phoenix and misread the basic plot of the movie.

Khalil on Sep 4, 2019

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