'Dark Phoenix' reviews: At least it's better than X-Men: Apocalypse…?
Dark Phoenix isn’t the fiery finish X-Men fans are hoping for, according to film critics who saw the 12th installment of the movie franchise at early screenings.
While a select few seemed to enjoy Dark Phoenix, a second film adaptation of the classic Jean Grey comic book story, most did not. At least everyone seems to agree on one thing: It’s better than X-Men: Apocalypse.
“Twelve films into a nearly two-decade-old franchise, Dark Phoenix rises from the ashes of 2016’s silly, bloated X-Men: Apocalypse — not a free bird, exactly, but better than what came before,” writes Entertainment Weekly‘s Leah Greenblatt.
The Wrap‘s William Babbiani scrawled “it’s not quite as awful as X-Men: Apocalypse, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or X-Men: The Last Stand,” while critics like IndieWire’s David Ehrlich and ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer tried to figure out why Dark Phoenix exists at all.
Directed by first-time feature helmer Simon Kinberg, the longtime X-Men movie producer who also co-wrote The Last Stand, the film focuses in on Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey, an already powerful telekinetic and telepathic mutant who is blasted with what seems like a solar flare while on a rescue mission in space. The flare turns out to be a cosmic force that leaves Jean with immense, virtually limitless power, turning her power mad. Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and Jessica Chastain also star in Dark Phoenix.
“Turner puts a mighty effort into her performance as Jean,” according to Mashable’s Angie Han, “but can only do so much to elevate the stilted dialogue and muddled character motivations she’s given.”
Read more reviews below.
Leah Greenblatt (Entertainment Weekly)
“It’s true that X-Men have never exactly been the party clowns of the Marvel Universe; their hero status has always been conditional to fearful humans, and the chosen family of mutants they’ve landed in is less choice than necessity. Why should they have to banter for us, too? Still, for what is being called a final installment, it all tends to feel both anticlimactic and a little grim in the end. Not that anything Marvel is ever really over; fans only have to hold their breath for horror spin-off The New Mutants, due next April.”
Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
“Yet Dark Phoenix took me by surprise. Simon Kinberg, who wrote and directed it (he was the co-screenwriter of The Last Stand — this is his first time helming a feature), 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. Jean drifts through the film in a convulsive trance of intensity that’s a whisper away from traumatized. Trauma looks good on superheroes (it’s part of the lifeblood of the comics), and Sophie Turner, from Game of Thrones, with her green eyes and cosmopolitan hauteur, gives Jean a glinting sensual fire, a fusion of triumph and dismay and sheer violence — it’s like watching Vivien Leigh play a vengefully irradiated badass.”
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
“After 12 installments spread out over two decades, the X-Men franchise stumbles toward its close in Dark Phoenix. Played at an unmodulated level of subdued excitement that never quickens the pulse, longtime series producer Simon Kinberg’s directorial debut lacks the exclamation point fans have justifiably been hoping for at the end of a road that has embraced three prequels, related side routes with the Wolverine and Deadpool offspring and the reshoot-happy The New Mutants, now scheduled for release next April. Curiosity and the desire for completion will draw the series faithful, but the creative inspiration and public excitement that once fed the series has demonstrably dissipated.”
William Bibbiani (The Wrap)
“The most impressive thing about Simon Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix, the 12th movie in 20th Century Fox’s wildly inconsistent X-Men superhero franchise, is that it’s not the worst one. It’s rather embarrassingly scripted and acted out by a cast who, pretty much across the board, look like they’d rather be anywhere else, but at least it’s not quite as awful as X-Men Apocalypse, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or X-Men: The Last Stand.”
Angie Han (Mashable)
“Turner puts a mighty effort into her performance as Jean, but can only do so much to elevate the stilted dialogue and muddled character motivations she’s given. McAvoy does a capable job of delivering slightly better material, but is shortchanged by the film’s divided attention. The other characters, including Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), are just there to serve as set dressing, and accordingly, most of them give performances as wooden as the mahogany furniture lining Xavier’s mansion.”
David Ehrlich (IndieWire)
“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.”
Justin Chang (The Los Angeles Times)
“In Dark Phoenix you can sense Kinberg trying to summon that same finesse, to disappointing ends. He does pull off one diverting action sequence, set aboard a fast-moving train and goosed by an enjoyably bombastic Hans Zimmer score. Unfortunately, he also tries to explain the mysteries of the Phoenix with a dead-on-arrival subplot involving a race of alien body snatchers whose leader is played by an uncharacteristically listless Jessica Chastain. Her heavy-lidded gaze, presumably meant to suggest otherworldly detachment, merely holds up a mirror to the audience’s boredom.”
Mike Ryan (UPROXX)
“Sadly, everything about Dark Phoenix just feels unnecessary – and it shows in the performances, as everyone just seems to be going through the motions, wondering how on Earth their contracts aren’t up yet. It’s a stark contrast to Matthew Vaughn’s rip-roaring, excitingly cool X-Men: First Class that kick-started this new cast. Now everyone looks bored. It’s now the second attempt at adapting the X-Men comics’ Dark Phoenix Saga to the big screen. It was first squeezed in Brett Ratner’s 2006 X-Men: The Last Stand and now tried again in Simon Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix, to not much better success. And on top of all that, after the sale of 20th Century Fox to Disney, this film now serves as an unofficial ending to a 19-year-old franchise that, despite its ups and downs, deserved a lot better.”
Matt Singer (ScreenCrush)
“It’s very hard to tell this story in a satisfying way in this little amount of time. Multiple characters undergo life-altering changes of perspective — flipping from good to evil, sympathetic to monstrous — in a matter of seconds. The whole movie hinges on Jean Grey, a character we hardly know (the Sophie Turner version was introduced in a minor role in X-Men: Apocalypse) and her relationships to a team of heroes we’ve hardly seen. The film is like an adaptation of the original Dark Phoenix comics, and also of the Anchorman ‘Well, that escalated quickly’ meme. Everything happens too fast, until the whole structure goes down in flames.”
Dark Phoenix (2019 Movie)