Right now, there’s one discernible benefit of Walt Disney Co.’s purchase of 20th Century Fox’s television and film assets — the fact that the rights to the “X-Men” are under the purview of Marvel Studios and its chief Kevin Feige.
It would have been nice had he been able to liberate “Dark Phoenix,” the latest movie in the franchise, before it being filmed, to save fans the slog, but that might’ve been asking too much.
“Phoenix” isn’t an entirely horrible film, rising slightly above the last entry in the series, “X-Men: Apocalypse,” but that’s the equivalent of being damned by faint praise. It represents the cinematic version of being forced to hug a sibling.
What plagues this film, which represents the directorial debut of longtime X-Men producer Simon Kinberg (who performs double duty by penning the script based on a classic X-Men comic-book story), is its pedestrian quality.
“Dark Phoenix,” which focuses on the sudden rise in power of mutant psychic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and her inability to control powers multiplied exponentially by a galactic anomaly, could have used a lot more cohesion in its tale, as opposed to the tepid, inert saga that audiences and fans are given with this effort.
Additionally, Kinberg provides a mysterious race of villains that will elicit little more than a shoulder shrug with their appearance and motives. Of course, it’s little more than world domination, but the space rabble view Grey, who was apparently inhabited by some lifeform, as a deity of sorts and they would like nothing more than for her to harness her newfound power to aid them to take over the Earth.
The only redeeming aspect of these particular villains: Kinberg cast Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain as their leader, a coup even if the character is underwritten. Her character doesn’t represent the only issue in that particular area.
There’s a sense that most of the cast, including James McAvoy as the iconic Professor Charles Xavier, are doing little more than going through the motions in what is the last film in the series under the 20th Century Fox banner. Many of the performances are listless, matching a story that feels rote in many regards.
While Jean Grey’s transformation into the Dark Phoenix certainly possesses some intrigue, the familiar story arc of “generic planetary threat” doesn’t quite gain any traction or generate any interest. Grey’s evolution comes abruptly with little in the way of exploration.
The only member of the cast who comes out of this with a performance that provides some emotional heft is Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Xavier’s best friend and arch nemesis.
Predictions of the demise of the comic-book movie genre continue to come, despite the continued success of movies such as “Avengers: Endgame.” “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” will do little to quell such prognostications. Perhaps that’s why this franchise and these characters need to hit the vault for a while.
George M. Thomas dabbles in movies and television for the Beacon Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ByGeorgeThomas