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What the critics are saying about Dark Phoenix

The Fox-produced X-Men franchise is ending… not with a bang, but a whimper.

Reviews are pouring in for Dark Phoenix, the second cinematic attempt to adapt the classic Marvel storyline of the same name, and they are — for the most part — not good. The flick is currently hovering just above 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

In case you're unaware, Dark Phoenix focuses on a serious quandary faced by the X-Men: how to deal with beloved team member Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, Game of Thrones) when she is imbued with a mysterious, cosmic "Phoenix Force" which overwhelms her and threatens to overtake her completely, turning her into an instrument of pure destruction. (The storyline was featured as a subplot in 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, in case this sounds strangely familiar.) The film is the directorial debut of longtime X-Men franchise producer Simon Kinberg, and judging by the reviews, it's easy to see how the film's failure could be chalked up to his inexperience. 

With a uniformly talented cast and working from a story that is the stuff of legend in comics lore, Kinberg managed to turn in a picture that RT's Critics Consensus calls "deeply disappointing" — especially considering that it will serve as a capper (the extremely troubled, perpetually in limboNew Mutants notwithstanding) to a series that has shown quite a few flashes of brilliance over 19 years and a dozen films.

Writing for York Dispatch, Katie Walsh was particularly irked by the performance of the film's lead. Turner, an immensely gifted actress, "can cut precision daggers with a sideways glance," Walsh wrote; alas, "Kinberg asks her to be a sledgehammer, requiring her to shout every emotional beat and turn, relentlessly hammering the themes and messaging." The critic also reserved plenty of scorn for the flick's script (which, unfortunately, Kinberg also penned). "What's truly amazing about Dark Phoenix," she opined, "is watching the charismatic, award-winning, star-packed cast flail about in this poorly written nonsense cartoon… perhaps [its worst offense] is proving what X-Men: Apocalypse started in its treatment of Oscar Isaac. Despite the caliber and talent of the actor, lackluster writing, directing and editing can warp a performance into something truly dreadful. Now that's power."

Of course, one doesn't have to be a fantastic director of actors to make an effective blockbuster — we're looking at you, George Lucas — but many observers lamented how curiously flat Dark Phoenix felt, despite its emotional, high-stakes story. "Turner [tries] with some success to infuse the simplistic and irrational storyline with some humanity, but everyone else looks like they're more interested in what craft service made for lunch that day," wrote William Bibbiani of The Wrap. "In a strange way, it might have been preferable if this was the most embarrassing film in the series, since at least then there'd be a reason to remember it. Instead, it's just a disappointingly average superhero flick, with a familiar story, disinterested actors, some cool action sequences, and a whole lot of missed opportunities."

Jason Guerassio of Business Insider was one of several reviewers to make reference to the flick's third act, which was famously re-shot nearly entirely in order to avoid similarities with another recent superhero film (which was almost certainly Captain Marvel). "When your superhero movie hinges on a finale set on a train, you kind of know you're doomed," he wrote. "Even the characters who have been around since X-Men: First Class can't keep things exciting… [Jennifer] Lawrence as Mystique looks like she'd rather be somewhere else."

Inevitably, not all reviewers agreed with the consensus — although even the positive notices took care to point out the film's many flaws. "With Dark Phoenix, [the X-Men series] almost goes out on a high, though sadly not quite," wrote Demetrios Matheou of The List. "[After] 2006's disappointing The Last Stand… the filmmakers wanted another stab [at the Dark Phoenix storyline]. The result, for a time, is fantastic… But suddenly it stalls, even feels cut short, as if writer-director Simon Kinberg ran out of time, or perhaps ideas. The final stretch might as well be called Mutants vs. Aliens, such is the return to routine, effects-driven action."

Forbes' Mark Hughes agreed that the movie was an acceptable, if not amazing, end to the series. "While [Dark Phoenix] is not among the best X-Men movies, it's not among the worst either," he wrote. "It is safely in the middle range of 'okay,' flawed but with some things to praise and overall managing to maintain the status quo without improving it nor tanking it. Anyone who expected an embarrassment or a trainwreck won't find it here… the action, especially in the first half of the film, is pretty good and often great… unfortunately, Dark Phoenix continued to decline in quality through the back half of its second act, with choppy editing and a lot of 'why would they do that?' or 'why wouldn't they do this instead?' moments."

Most observers, however, were firmly in the consensus camp — and more than a few were downright hostile. In perhaps the most blistering takedown leveled at the film, Clint Worthington of The Spool wrote, "Dark Phoenix is a film in mourning — of its characters, its franchise, even of its own previously pristine state before delays and reshoots turned it into a Frankenstein's monster of its former self… the X-Men themselves want to be put out of their misery, and Dark Phoenix is their death rattle." Oh, but he wasn't done. "Make no mistake, [the movie] is an absolute mess," he continued. "[The Fox X-Men series is] a franchise that sees its own death coming — at one point, our heroes are captured by military personnel who literally have the letters 'MCU' emblazoned on their gear — and greets it with a resigned sigh. For that reason at least, Dark Phoenix carries a morbid fascination."

Yeesh. In absolutely destroying the film, though, Worthington made a good point. Marvel Studios' parent company, Disney — having recently acquired the film and television assets of Fox Studios — is in an excellent position to rehabilitate these characters within the friendly confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the highest-grossing film franchise of all time and one that has proven itself pretty much incapable of dropping the ball. So, X-Men fans, take heart: Fox and Kinberg may have utterly whiffed the finale to your franchise, but Mighty Marvel will soon be here to save the day.