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Movies: X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Ugh. Why did I even?

Where to begin? The terrible script? That’s where most movies begin, but this one had so many reshoots that who knows what the original script even looked like? What remains, however, is just awful. It’s rote. Predictable. The two main plots don’t mesh, even though they are supposed to actually be part of the same story. The villains have zero character development. None of the actors appear to want to be there at all. (Probably because of reshoots.)… Just… ugh.

The story: Jean Grey gets sent to Xavier’s school after losing her parents in a car accident (that it seems she probably caused thanks to being incapable of controlling her powers). Years later, she and some of the other X-students go save a shuttle flight in distress and Jean gets hammered by weird space radiation or something, which enhances her powers. Once again she struggles to control them. Then [spoilers follow] she finds out Xavier lied about her father being dead and implanted false memories so she wouldn’t know she wasn’t wanted. She goes to see her dad, she fights with some of her classmates, she goes to see Magneto, he sends her away… Basically, her chaos is threatening the fragile acceptance the mutants have received from the government and the world at large. Soon they’re being put in containment camps, etc.

Meanwhile, some aliens who really like that radiation or nebula or whatever has taken up residence inside Jean are following her and trying to convince her to… join them? Here’s the chief problem with this side of the plot: despite the main alien lady (played by Jessica Chastain) being a walking exposition bot, we really are given nothing about these aliens and what they’re really after. The whole point of them is to be the difficult decision Jean needs to make about whether to use her powers for good or ill.

What’s really a bummer is that this could have been a good movie. If the actors had appeared at all invested, if the characters had been developed, and especially if the themes had been more than skimmed over. There’s potential here to explore things like internment camps, and the question of when lies are less harmful than the truth, and misuse of power, and difficult choices. But nothing in this movie is more than surface and show. And it’s not particularly good show, so it can’t quite skate by on just that.

I remember X-Men: The Last Stand being pretty awful, too. So maybe it’s time to stop trying to tell this story on screen. Or, more broadly, maybe it’s time to invest more in character and personal conflict rather than constantly relying on bland spectacle.

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