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Credit: Marvel/20th Century Fox

Critics call Dark Phoenix 'anticlimactic,' 'minor league' end for the X-Men

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Jun 5, 2019

Second chances don't often come around, but when they do, you gotta make sure the landing gets stuck. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case for Dark Phoenix, which is basically a do-over of 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, which bungled the iconic, 1980 "Dark Phoenix Saga" arc by John Byrne and Chris Claremont.

The review embargo for the latest live-action X-Men film (out this Friday, June 7) is now lifted, and critics are not being kind to what is the end of an era; the final installment in a universe soon to be folded into the MCU after Disney gobbled up all of Fox's entertainment properties back in March.

Despite a few good set pieces and reliably good performances from James McAvoy (Professor X) and Michael Fassbender (Magneto), Dark Phoenix, critics largely agree the conclusion to almost 20 years of mutant-based narrative can't help but feel oddly underwhelming, particularly when following Avengers: Endgame, which epically and beautifully wrapped up 10 years of Disney-owned Marvel storytelling. A 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, an all-time low for the X-franchise, doesn't do the flick any favors, either.

Written and directed by Simon Kinberg (the Last Stand co-scribe/longtime X-Men producer making his directorial debut), Dark Phoenix puts telepath Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) front and center. After absorbing a mysterious power in outer space, she becomes exponentially more powerful and mentally unhinged. This isn't helped by the fact that Charles lied to her as a child and that an enigmatic alien (Jessica Chastain) wants to manipulate the power inside of her body.

Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique), Nicholas Hoult (Beast), Tye Sheridan (Cyclops), Evan Peters (Quicksilver), Alexandra Shipp (Storm), and Kodi Smit-McPhee (Nightcrawler) all co-star.

Find out what the critics are saying below. WARNING! Slight spoilers abound!

"Dark Phoenix took me by surprise. Simon Kinberg, who wrote and directed it ... is a more sensual and intuitive filmmaker than Brett Ratner. He doesn’t pad out a generic story with the rollicking eye candy of mutant effects. He uses effects to tell the story." -Owen Gleiberman, Variety

"Compared to the conclusions of other major franchises — the most recent being Avengers: Endgame — this one seems distinctly minor-league. The men who have anchored most of the X-Men outings are just spinning their wheels here, and while Jean's central dilemma is certainly dramatic enough, and is most closely entwined with the actions of two other women, what should have registered as genuinely powerful instead plays out in a pretty low-key way. In no way does this feel like a fulsome, satisfying destination to a journey that started two decades ago and logged about 30 hours in the telling." -Todd McCarthy, THR

Simon Kinberg, who makes his feature directing debut after years as a series writer and producer, keeps the action lean, almost brisk. But unlike Deadpool,Thor: Ragnarok, or Captain MarvelPhoenix doesn’t seem to have much interest in tweaking the tropes of the genre ... For what is being called a final installment, it all tends to feel both anticlimactic and a little grim in the end." -Leah Greenblatt, EW

"In the hands of Simon Kinberg, a longtime X-Men writer and producer who takes the director’s chair, Dark Phoenix at times resembles a late-1990s Jerry Bruckheimer action movie more than a superhero fest – and it’s a nice change-up for the ubiquitous genre, with a cool, propulsive Hans Zimmer score ... Yet the movie feels small for something with such humongous, universe-shattering stakes – and not in a good way." -Brian Truitt, USA Today

"It's a pity the movie doesn't lean into its '90s setting like Captain Marvel or make time to have a little more fun the way Avengers: Endgame did. Hans Zimmer's enthralling score mixes synths and classical elements for a little retro sci-fi flavor, while clever references to the past 19 years of X-movies and a subtle nod to the Marvel Cinematic Universe will delight eagle-eyed fans. But Dark Phoenix is a pretty intense film throughout. It focuses on Jean Grey's weighty journey from wide-eyed adventurer to fiery destroyer—and does so more convincingly than Game of Thrones did with a certain character in its final season." -Sean Keane, CNET

"Almost as an aftershock from that gigantic finish to the Marvel Cinematic Universe saga that was Avengers: Endgame, the X-Men series now comes to its own weirdly anticlimactic end. Or maybe it’s truer to say that the prequel series showing the mutants’ younger selves – with James McAvoy rather than Patrick Stewart as Xavier, and Michael Fassbender rather than Ian McKellen as Magneto – has now circled in on itself as far as it can. There is no place to go other than forward to the present day, where we came in." -Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

"Clocking in at a few minutes shy of two hours, Dark Phoenix certainly doesn't seem like it should be a movie that overstays its welcome—by the conventions of the superhero genre, it should have another forty-five minutes at the very least. Yet, somehow, it manages to make all but a scant handful of scenes feel inexorable, inexplicably boring. It drags on listlessly, completely unsure what to do with any of its characters—not even Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), the titular 'Phoenix' of Dark Phoenix has any real clarity or purpose. She's got a new power now, and it's causing her psychic mutation to go haywire. That's about as complicated or nuanced as things get." -Meg Downey, GameSpot

"Here’s where things get especially wonky. It turns out that Jean’s solar flare also destroyed a planet and the survivors of that alien race, the D’Bari, have been trailing it in an attempt to harness the energy and rebuild their world. Somehow, that noble pursuit quickly leads to 'All humans must die!' It’s a messy plot that takes away from the excellent acting, which is better than the Disney-run Marvel Cinematic Universe (this is a Fox picture)." -Johnny Oleksinski, The New York Post

"After Apocalypse’s wan reception, the current iteration of the franchise maybe just didn’t have the right momentum—both internal and external—to deliver such a weighty package. That’s what comes across in watching Dark Phoenix, which is plodding and perfunctory and near entirely devoid of awe. Kinberg tries for that wonder, especially in the film’s ominous and almost artful opening stretches—but all too soon the film settles into a dull plug-and-play rhythm, giving us heavy talk about the onus of extraordinary ability that is lazily rehashed from the X-Men films that have come before. Kinberg has been handed a fine cast of actors to stage the drama, but they’re given little to do, most of them trudging through on grim autopilot as the movie walks with aim but little purpose toward a hurried conclusion." -Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

"In the end, Dark Phoenix is not the conclusion fans of the X-Men franchise might have been hoping for, and it doesn’t make much of an effort to tie every narrative thread into a nice bow as the franchise is probably coming to an end here. It's a bit behind its time. Still, the movie is fun and safe movie for fans of the characters to watch in a theater with a bass-heavy sound system, and leaves the key characters well enough to remember them fondly." -Brandon Davis, ComicBook.com

"It’s a premise built on a foundation of sand, and Dark Phoenix also looks frustratingly cheap. After an impressively heroic opening sequence in outer space, Kinberg’s film settles into ho-hum surroundings like schools, suburban homes, hotels and trains. The one time the movie goes someplace completely new — a place X-Men fans have probably wanted to see onscreen for 19 years — it looks like a community garden made out of leftover sets from The Darkest Minds." -William Bibbiani, TheWrap

"Bafflingly, the significant bit of Phoenix-centric groundwork that was laid out in X-Men: Apocalypse goes unaddressed, in favor of a subplot that draws inspiration both from Marvel’s comics and from X-Men: The Last Stand. The blurring of the lines between Jean and the Phoenix’s respective powers has always been one of the more fascinating elements of their dynamic, but it doesn’t quite work in Dark Phoenix because it unintentionally muddles some of the film’s big ideas rather than adding a layer of intrigue to them." -Charles Pulliam-Moore, Gizmodo

"[Kinberg's] Dark Phoenix is more thoughtful than The Last Stand, and certainly a more downbeat and introspective X-Men movie than the last one, the goofy and overlong Apocalypse. But it still remains locked down by a very limited idea of what an X-Men movie can be, and a very small vision of one of the most iconic epics in superhero fiction." -A.A. Dowd, The AV Club

"Dark Phoenix isn’t the first event-free event movie of the mega-franchise era, but this one is different — it’s a perfect storm of pointlessness. Not only does the movie fumble the baton pass between generations and fail to advance the series’ overarching story in any meaningful way, it also hardly seems to try. Not only does it botch the source material’s signature narrative arc, it also does everything in its power to flatten it out. Not only does it waste an excellent cast on a script that reduces all of its characters to basic constructs, it also puts them at the mercy of a first-time director who doesn’t even know how to make them look cool." -David Ehrlich, IndieWire


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