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Review – X-Men: Dark Phoenix – “Fails to soar, but isn’t a car crash either”

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I refute your hypothesis that X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX is a car crash. The opening scene, with an actual car crash? Sure. But in amongst the dirge, there’s a lot to like.

I find it quite amusing now when embargoed movies finally land. 10% on Rotten Tomatoes! Up to 14%, down to 7%.

I’m not sure it became a numbers game (in terms of dollar bill, I guess it always has been). For me, it’s about the trailers I get before a film, and then the realisation that come the end of August, I’ve managed to tick most of them off – and silly season, for another year at least is done.

It’s a long-winded way of saying no review would ever stop me seeing a film. Except for perhaps A SERBIAN FILM. And every day I wish I’d taken their advice on that. X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX? No way I’d miss it. In fact, it was unlikely I’d ever get to the weekend of release without seeing it. If it got 1%, I’d be even keener to see it, in a sick way.

I watched the reviews trickle in last night – and some were favourable. Then, WHAM! The slamming started. And I’ve seen some brutal stuff. People walked out. People saying it’s the worst X-MEN film. The lot.

Let’s put that to bed early on, shall we?

I can not for the life of me, see how people would pitch this lower than several lower-tier MCU films, let alone X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE.

Is it choppy? Yes. Is it clear it had a troubled upbringing? God yeah. Does J-Law look massively released that she’s out of her contract? 110%. Is some of the CGI off. Yep.

But it’s totally serviceable. In fact, due to the bashing, it’s a darn sight better than many of us expected. And what was the last superhero movie you saw, that wasn’t any of the above? AVENGERS: ENDGAME, I reckon. And that’s god-tier. Is it unfortunate this is the next superhero movie out of the blocks? Sure. But something had to be. If we’re going to pitch everything against ENDGAME and THE DARK KNIGHT (or, even more uncountable, Burton’s BATMAN), everything will pale, won’t it?

And I’m not here to rank superhero films – let alone the X-MEN films for you. I gave up on that when people dismissed X-MEN: THE LAST STAND purely because of the Director. And because Vinny Jones was in it. I still know people today that refuse to watch it. Hugh Jackman included, probably.

So you could do a lot worse. And you could do a lot better. But I’ll wager it’s not even the worst film out at your local flea pit.

It did make me reminisce, though. Long for happier, less complex times.

I remember the joy I had when I heard they got the next 007 (come on, is there any debate?!) in.

2011 seems like a long time ago – a lifetime, almost. Yet I genuinely believe we’ll all look back fondly on the casting that bought us Fassbender as Magneto – or, more likely Erik Lensherr. He’s honoured his contract at least – with the minimum requirement being that he looks like he wants to be there. Even with ever decreasing screen time. J-Law, I love you, but I’m looking at you.

2015 seems like even longer ago, mind. After the double whammy of MACBETH and STEVE JOBS, Michael Fassbender has been living in purgatory. (Possibly learning the flute?) And, if nothing else, this gives Fassbender back to The World – with the whole world a stage. I lose sleep thinking about what Tarantino he might have turned down due to the contract lengths of this and Sir Ridley’s sci-fi opus.

4 films in 8 years. And yet who’s the first person you think of when you think of Magneto? Or Professor X? Exactly. And that ain’t right.

These films have some really exciting scenes, and some fascinating ideas (Fassbender seriously thinks he’s in a Shakespeare family drama). But I’d only ever take chunks of them. Yeah, even some of X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. Much like the JOHN WICK trilogy – cut them all down, and sew them together, there’s probably a belting single movie in there.

But money talks, so of course they all get streeeeeeeetttttccccchhhhheeeeeedddddd out.

And for me, that’s where the criticism is fair. With the cast they have – much like Manchester United’s much-maligned Squad – they simply haven’t delivered to the level they could, and should have.

MacAvoy (adding a nice alcohol dependency character edge) is great, as ever. Throw in Jessica Chastain and we should be talking about a fantastic cast. But the film is never as much as the sum of its parts.

Throw in some of the hottest young talent around, and I could see why people think it’s a bit…. limp. Which is never how I thought I’d describe a film starring Fassbender. Especially post-SHAME.

As ever with Director’s Cuts (#ReleaseTheSnyderCut!), I’m intrigued to see whatever comes out later. Recent rumours that they had to re-shoot due to similarities with the Skrulls in CAPTAIN MARVEL are fascinating. And also a sneak peek into how isolated these films are. This is a Marvel film, of course. MCU, no. (Unless you include DEADPOOL 2!) But it feels nothing like it. And how could they not have spoken about similarities – especially when they were being made at roughly the same time? It’s negligent. And fuels the fire that everything has been rushed out, to get over to Marvel-proper, ASAP.

In fact, with some boundary testing exploding of human bodies, (think WATCHMEN minus the blood), it’s got more in common with DC. Daddy issues and dark, grimy night time slanging matches. Does it bleed? It will.

I miss the historical setting of some of the earlier films and some of the effort to elevate it above a normal superhero film. That said, what are we actually here for? Because if it’s the X-Men (Cute X-Women line, btw), working as a team, it’s here in spades.

The opening scenes work far better than the trailers suggested, too. Once they’re past that car crash of an opening. It’s borderline arrogant to start spoon feeding an audience back-story now. Especially if you expect any emotional resonance.

Throw in a really strange, almost John Carpenteresque horror synthesiser score, and there’s lots to like.

My favourite bit, though? Probably the clearest indicator yet, that the cast was ultimately underutilised through this saga. A chess game. For old times sake. That, against all odds, does manage to add some emotional resonance.

Let’s hope, for old times sake, we get Fassbender and Lawerence back making proper films, ASAP. We’ve missed them.

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