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Dark Phoenix ••1/2

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
Director: Simon Kinberg
Screenplay: John Byrne, Chris Claremont
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 113 minutes
Release Date: June 7, 2019


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Scott, did they make a movie about a blackout in Arizona?

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

You’re raising Arizona again, Greg? Let’s recap.

It’s 1992 and the X-Men are called to save some astronauts in the space shuttle Endeavor. They’re being attacked by a strange energy force. Our heroes save nearly everyone, but one and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) leaps to save him. But the Endeavour explodes and Jean absorbs the entire energy force to save her friends. She returns to Earth with a massive headache and some very bloodshot eyes (that is to say, they glow red).

Turns out that the blast somehow magnifies Jean Grey’s powers. The explosion also removes the mental barrier that Professor Xavier implanted in her brain which allowed Jean to forget that she inadvertently caused her parents’ death many years earlier. Jean travels to her childhood home and discovers her father is still alive, yet during a skirmish with the X-Men, she accidentally kills Raven (Jennifer Lawrence). And now the team must either capture or kill Phoenix.

Scott, I am so relieved that the X-Men saga is finally over. At least for now. I’m am suffering serious superhero fatigue. This final installment isn’t much better than the earlier attempt: 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand,” (would that it were, in fact, the last stand).

Dark Phoenix is filled with ambiguity. The film is packed with the usual scenes of X-Men fighting and blowing things up. But we have a return of Magneto (Michael Fassbender) as the ambiguous hero/villain. He’s determined to kill Phoenix. But she’s pretty darned powerful. And Professor Xavier is exposed as having done some ambiguously moral things to protect Jean Grey from herself. And the X-Men are in left with some rather ambiguous choices as to whether save Phoenix or save the people she’s endangering. Throughout the film, we’re left wondering who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. We all want Jean Grey to come out well in the end, but we all know it won’t happen.

Phoenix eventually sacrifices herself to save all of humanity and the universe. I’m getting really bored with Marvel (and in this case Fox/Disney) for raising the stakes so high that mere mortals cannot comprehend their immensity. In Avengers: Endgame, Thanos exterminates half the life of all the universe.) We can empathize with saving one life, or the lives of everyone on a ship, or perhaps even the whole world. We can relate to those stakes since we deal with humans every day. But we cannot empathize with saving the Universe. We have barely stepped off this planet. I think superheroes need to reign it in a bit and become more Earth-bound.

There’s not much in the way of messages here, either. Charles Xavier apologizes for keeping secrets from Jean. Jean apologizes for being super strong. And Magneto apologizes for nothing. I think the X-Men franchise has lost its way. The idea behind the X-Men is to analogize how we all feel like freaks or outcasts. And to remind us that we are valuable and that our freakishness is what makes us powerful. (See our friend’s Dave Rendall’s book The Freak Factor). But the franchise has devolved into mere action adventure without purpose.

Greg, I agree with you. My superhero fatigue is turning into a superhero coma. I watched this film while I was vacationing in Panama, and I found myself more enamored with the font of the English subtitles than I was with the film I was (supposedly) watching. I wish I could say that I’m “hooked on phonix” (or Phoenix) but right now I feel more hocked or hacked by Phoenix.

Dark Phoenix is kind of a lifeless dud of a superhero movie. It isn’t bad per se but it falls somewhat short of bringing all the ingredients of a great movie together into a satisfying whole. Jean is our hero who descends into anti-hero status but manages to resurrect herself back onto the hero pedestal. She evolves into a Christ-like figure toward the end, with a scene that’s a little too on-the-nose, showing her on the cross. A later scene’s narration telling us that she’s risen and evolved into something far greater. A Christian “Jeansus” doesn’t really work for me, and the reality driven home repeatedly is that this is a lightweight X-Person movie. Fox-Disney needs to shelve the X-People franchise for several years or until there are ideas for a clever reboot.

Perhaps the main problem with this film is that it foolishly attempts, in a single film, to capture Jean Grey’s enormously epic, roller-coaster arc. This really can’t be done in two hours. Normally we complain when filmmakers take a simple story and stretch it out into three films. Jean Grey’s complex story requires three films, with the first one detailing her childhood and rise to heroism and the remaining two centering on Grey’s descent into the hellfire club and the X-Men rescuing her.

Dark Phoenix is not a movie about an Arizona city without power – but the final gasp of a franchise running out of steam. It felt as if everyone involved was glad it was all over. And I join in that feeling. Still, the film delivered on its ambitions of being a sci-fi/adventure. I give it 3 out of 5 Reels.

Jean Grey is a tragic and redeemed hero. She, through no fault of her own, fell into a deep pit and ultimately redeemed herself through her sacrifice. I give her 3 out of 5 Heroes.

And the message that we are all freaks and that’s… Okay is lost in the miasma. I give the message just 1 out of 5 Message points.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

Dark Phoenix is one of those movies that you should watch only if you are incredibly bored or suffer from chronic insomnia. There are a few good scenes here and there, but this film doesn’t do the great character of Jean Grey justice. I’m going to award Dark Phoenix a scraggly 2 Reels out of 5.

Although you wouldn’t know it from this film, Jean Grey’s hero’s journey is actually quite remarkable. Like many great heroes, she rises like a Phoenix more than once, from the tragedy of her childhood and from her turn to darkness. Jean experiences a dramatic and satisfying redemption at the end, too. I award her 4 Hero points out of 5.

The message here is the message that our friend David Rendall has devoted his life to sharing, namely, the idea that “what makes us weird makes us wonderful”. Professor Xavier has the wisdom to turn the freakishness of the X-Men and Women into gifts to give to the world, even when much of the world feels threatened by that freakishness. I give this message 4 Message points out of 5.

Movie: Message: Heroes: