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‘Dark Phoenix’ a giant mess, but there’s a good movie in there somewhere

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For the second time in less than fifteen years, Fox has taken up the task of adapting the iconic X-Men “Dark Phoenix” story arc. And for the second time in less than fifteen years, the filmmakers at Fox have fumbled the ball and given us a mangled version of “Dark Phoenix” that bears little resemblance to the source material.

Yet, amidst all the bad writing, lame plotting and wooden acting, “Dark Phoenix” has the bones of an entertaining piece of cinema.

“Dark Phoenix” centers on Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), a powerful mutant who suffers an incident on a mission to space. She returns filled with a terrifying amount of power which soon begins to manifest itself and negatively affect the people around her.

Jean goes on the run, turning first to Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and then to the mysterious Vuk (Jessica Chastain) for help. Meanwhile, the X-Men, led by Prof. Xavier (James McAvoy) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), give chase trying to save Jean. In the end, surprising alliances are formed and Jean has to choose whether to side with her friends or embrace her own darkness.

This movie is a flaw-filled mess. The biggest flaw is the character at the heart of the story. Jean is a character going through a whole range of emotions as her mind is torn to shreds, but Turner just doesn’t have the acting chops to convincingly pull off that kind of performance. Her face is mostly set in stone regardless of what emotion she’s attempting to play.

She’s not the only actor who does less than impressive work. Jennifer Lawrence looks bored as if she’d rather be anywhere other than the “Dark Phoenix” set. McAvoy, Sheridan and Nicholas Hoult are fine if a little one-note. Chastain’s turn as Vuk is effective, but so flat, it’s unintentionally hilarious is some scenes.

Then there’s the plot, which once again departs from the source material in favor of a more conventional (and less interesting) narrative. It’s as if executives at Fox think they know better than the Marvel writers and artists who created a story that’s stood as classic for more than four decades.

On top of that, this story makes no sense in the Fox “X-Men” continuity. I mean, Jean Grey died at the end of “X-Men: The Last Stand” and now she’s going through the whole Phoenix thing again? It makes it feel like the events of this film don’t really matter because the studio will just change things when they want another movie to keep the money train rolling. At least, they would have had Disney not bought the X-Men as part of their recent acquisition of Fox assets. Thank the maker.

And yet, there are some things about “Dark Phoenix” that work pretty well. Fassbender owns the screen as Magneto and watching him play off of McAvoy never gets old. Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler gets a really cool berzerker-type sequence in the big final fight. In fact, that final battle sequence is some of the best superhero action we’ve ever seen in an X-flick.

In fact, had the studio been less motivated by making a few quick bucks and spent more time massaging the script, “Dark Phoenix” could have been a pretty good flick. Maybe make it more about Xavier dealing with his past mistakes, come up with a better villain the Vuk and streamline the plot and really make it shine. That could have been a story with more emotional resonance and more satisfying from a character development point of view.

But that’s not what we got. The “Dark Phoenix” flick we got is a jumble of messy, uninspired storytelling and some very good elements. Honestly, this is the perfect capstone to Fox’s X-Men saga, the swirling vortex of disorder those movies have been.

2 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Thanks to Fat Cats in Rexburg for providing screenings for movie reviews on EastIdahoNews.com.

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