Michael Fassbender's performance as Magneto is the only real reason you should see 'Dark Phoenix'

20th Century Fox‘Dark Phoenix’ is unfortunately an underwhelming culmination to nearly 20 years of mutants.
  • Warning: There are mild spoilers ahead for “Dark Phoenix.”
  • The final big “X-Men” movie starring Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, and Michael Fassbender is in theatres Friday and it will leave you wanting more.
  • While it’s not the worst film in the franchise, “Dark Phoenix” delivers underdeveloped villains and a reshot ending that will leave you wondering what the original one could’ve been.
  • On the bright side, Fassbender steals every scene he’s in as a young Magneto.
  • It’s the final big “X-Men” movie from 20th Century Fox before Disney retains the rights to the characters after purchasing Fox’s film division.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.

“Dark Phoenix” isn’t the worst “X-Men” movie in the franchise, but it’s far from the best and that’s a big letdown.

The 12th Marvel movie from 20th Century Fox follows Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) as she gets blasted by a cosmic force flare. In turn, that surge of energy unlocks the Phoenix, a powerful part of Jean which has been locked away in her mind by Professor X (James McAvoy) to protect her and others from the uncontrollable force that starts to take her over.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve seen it played out before in a very different way in 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand.” That film saw an older Jean Grey unlock the power of the Phoenix.

“Dark Phoenix” is very much a do-over of one of the most divisive “X-Men” movie. The good? This time, it’s a bit easier to stomach, mostly because Jean doesn’t look possessed by a demon. And the performances never make the film feel boring. The bad? When you discover the film’s real villains you’re probably going to be left a bit confused and reaching for your phone to do a quick Google. It makes for a bittersweet and somewhat disappointing end to a franchise that has been ongoing for almost two decades.

Why you should care: It’s the final “X-Men” movie from Fox before Disney takes over the rights to the Marvel characters. Director and writer Simon Kinberg has been working on the franchise since 2006.

Simon kinberg dark phoenix20th Century FoxWriter, director, and producer Simon Kinberg has worked on the ‘X-Men’ movies since ‘The Last Stand.’

“Dark Phoenix” marks the final “X-Men” movie under 20th Century Fox. Disney purchased Fox’s film studio in March and will be able to use the characters in its Marvel Cinematic Universe moving forward.

It’s not clear whether or not Disney will reboot the entire franchise all together at some point to bring them into the Marvel Cinematic Universe or if it will retain some of the same actors to play the characters we’ve watched on screen for nearly 20 years. In April, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige told i09 “it will be a very long time” before we see the characters on screen again.

This may be your last chance to see some of your favourite actors together in their iconic superhero and villain roles. Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters, Alexandra Ship, and Tye Sheridan all reprise their roles as younger versions of Mystique, Charles Xavier, Magneto, Jean Grey, Hank McCoy, Quicksilver, Storm, and Cyclops, in that order. They’re joined by Jessica Chastain who plays a mystery villain that I won’t spoil here.

For those who have loved the franchise for years, Simon Kinberg is finally behind the director’s chair for the first time. Kinberg first joined the “X-Men” movies writing 2006’s maligned “X-Men: The Last Stand” before working on six more of Fox’s Marvel movies, including “Days of Future Past” and “Logan.” With “Dark Phoenix,” Kinberg is writing and directing his first movie.

What’s hot: Michael Fassbender steals every scene he’s in as Magneto, Quicksilver gets a sliver of time to shine, and some well-meant messages.

Magneto dark phoenix20th Century FoxGive me the Magneto cut of ‘Dark Phoenix,’ please.

Sophie Turner may be the top-billed actor for “Dark Phoenix,” but Fassbender is the star here. He’s just so good in this movie. He always has been in this franchise as the young Erik Lehnsherr, a survivor of the Holocaust and a man who can manipulate forms of metal. Fassbender is the scene-stealer every moment he’s on screen.

In a scene that’s been teased in trailers, Fassbender makes you believe he’s actually keeping a helicopter from getting destroyed. His facial expressions sell the scene even though he’s probably surrounded by green screen. Later, when he cries, you feel genuine emotion for him. He also gets one of the funniest bits in the film when he shuts down his old pal Xavier for giving one of his long speeches.

Michael fassbender x men dark phoenix20th Century FoxMagneto, the usual foil and antihero of the X-Men, is one of the characters you’ll be rallying behind the most in ‘Dark Phoenix.’

If someone were to make a super-cut of all of Fassbender’s scenes in this movie, I’d watch it in a heartbeat.

Quicksilver (Evan Peters) always gets some of the “X-Men” movie’s best moments. He gets another slow-motion moment in “Dark Phoenix” fans will love. Unfortunately, he’s not in the movie nearly enough and it’s not clear why. There was an obvious opportunity for him to be in a larger chunk of the movie and the character just wasn’t included. Instead, he’s left to hang back at the X-Mansion.

Quicksilver x men dark phoenix20th Century Fox, INSIDER composite/Kirsten AcunaQuicksilver is one of the best parts of ‘Dark Phoenix,’ but he’s only in the film for a few minutes.

An unexpected surprise is that in his place we get to see more of the young Nightcrawler, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, and he gets a few good scenes, especially during one of the big fight sequences near the end.

This movie had so much potential. One of Xavier’s (James McAvoy) big speeches in “Dark Phoenix” is about not wanting to change people who are special because he doesn’t see them as broken. That’s a theme throughout many of the other “X-Men” movies before this one. That message just falls a bit more flat here because so much is going on.

What’s not: The real villain of the movie is never well developed. “Dark Phoenix” feels more like a standalone than a culmination of several movies before it.

Dark phoenix trailer movie20th Century FoxLogan rewrote the X-Men’s future in ‘Days of Future Past,’ but I don’t think this is the future he had in mind for the mutants.

One of the biggest questions you may walk away with after seeing “Dark Phoenix” is why it was decided to re-do the Dark Phoenix story line when we saw it in 2006. The easy answer is to deliver a much better version. But this isn’t that much more satisfying than “The Last Stand.”

“Dark Phoenix” never really feels like a complete continuation of the “X-Men” franchise. 2014’s “Days of Future Past” reset the “X-Men” timeline so that the mutants could continue on with a better life instead of being doomed to an apocalyptic fate. “Phoenix” works as a standalone, but not a great one. Some of it feels like it could’ve been a movie that took place in the early 2000s. Much of that is because of the look of some of the visual effects in the final fight, one that commanded heavy reshoots to bring the third act back to Earth instead of in space.

Storm lightning dark phoenix20th Century FoxSome of the CG effects with Storm near the film’s end just feel cheap. Perhaps that’s in part due to a quick turnaround on reshoots for the film’s third act.

But that’s not “Dark Phoenix’s” biggest pitfall. That belongs to the villains of the film. When you figure out who Jessica Chastain’s character really is and the group that’s travelling with her, you’ll probably raise your eyebrows thinking there’s no way this is the route the movie is taking. But it is. “Dark Phoenix” never goes in depth into explaining who the villains are beyond two quick name drops you’ll have to Google later if you’re not familiar with the Dark Phoenix story in the comics.

Jessica chastain dark phoenixDoane Gregory/FoxJessica Chastain plays a strange, mysterious villain who we never learn too much about other than her name and a namedrop of her race of people.

Beyond the villains, there are some strange character choices in the film. Most upsetting to fans may be that Charles Xavier comes across like a selfish prick for most of the film.

In this timeline, the X-Men are treated like heroes. The gang even wear their popular ’90s blue and yellow superhero suits. Xavier finds himself attending parties at the White House in their honour and quickly becomes more preoccupied with awards than the needs of his own family of mutants. As a result, you feel more empathetic towards Magneto or Beast than Charles for the film. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique isn’t in the movie for nearly as long as you may have imagined. But if you’ve done a close watch of some of the trailers, that may not be as big of a surprise.

Charles xavier x men dark phoenix20th Century FoxCharles Xavier’s character in ‘Dark Phoenix’ appears to be a bit of a departure from what we’re used to seeing in the past.

The biggest mystery of “Dark Phoenix” may be why this film was centered around Sophie Turner’s character. Sure, everyone recognises Turner as the “Game of Thrones” actress, she even mentions it in a behind-the-scenes feature for the film, but the younger Jean Grey never felt like a main focus in any prior X-Men movie enough to command her own film. Now, all of a sudden, in this film, we’re to believe she forged some huge bond with Mystique that was never really hinted at before.

X men dark phoenix Doane Gregory/20th Century FoxJean Grey isn’t the most interesting part of a movie about her own character.

Turner’s fine in this movie, but her performance isn’t extraordinary enough to stand out from costars Hoult, Lawrence, McAvoy, or Fassbender. There are beats with Turner’s character that don’t make sense and there are inconsistencies with her powers. One minute, she says she can’t control her powers but then she’s suddenly able to at other times.

Early in the film, Jean overreacts a bit when she has only lost control once. She lashes out and runs off proclaiming she can’t control herself and the moment just isn’t earned. At this point, we’ve never even seen Jean try to control her power or see her lose control that much, making you wonder if a moment was cut where we would have seen Jean act out more than once early on in the film.

Later in the film, Jean Grey tells another character, “My emotions make me strong.” It’s a key moment for the character and should be a more powerful scene. Unfortunately, it’s undercut by something similar seen on screen in March. “Captain Marvel” gave us a superhero who was held back because she wasn’t allowed to show her full potential. It makes me wonder how much of “Dark Phoenix” may, or may not, have been affected and altered by any similarities to the Brie Larson vehicle. Jean Grey’s speech isn’t the only similarity the two movies share.

Jean grey dark phoenix20th Century FoxJean Grey has to learn how to control her powers in ‘Dark Phoenix’ and it’s tough to not make some comparisons between the mutant and Captain Marvel.

It’s worth mentioning that some of the downsides that plague “Dark Phoenix” may be because of its reshoots and changes made to the script. McAvoy told Yahoo Movies UK reshoots to the movie’s end were to avoid similarities to another unnamed superhero movie.

Overall: You’ll feel compelled to see “Dark Phoenix” if you’ve loved any of the “X-Men” movies before it. At the least, come for Fassbender’s performance.

The “X-Men” movies have been the longest continuous superhero franchise with the same actors, spanning 19 years on screen. In that time, they have given voices to those who have felt discriminated against, including the gay community.

“Dark Phoenix” feels like an “X-Men” movie that deserved so much more, including better fleshed-out villains and a better ending. Fassbender shouldn’t be the standout performance in a movie centered around Sophie Turner. “Dark Phoenix” won’t be anyone’s favourite “X-Men” movie. But if you’ve loved this franchise at all, you probably owe it to yourself to send them off before Disney decides what it will do with the “X-Men.”

Grade: C

“Dark Phoenix” is in theatres Friday. Watch a trailer for the movie below.

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