Phoenix Falling

Partway through the arduous Dark Phoenix, a TV newscast mentions the possibility for mutant internment camps, suggesting the X-Men’s future unless they stop the conflicted Jean Gray. That ultimately goes nowhere, short of setting stakes that never come of need.

The reset to X-Men films passed through the ‘60s and the Cold War, using stories of discrimination and bigotry; that’s what X-Men stand for. In Jean Gray’s (Sophie Turner) case, she plays a girl traumatized as a youth, misunderstood, rejected, and she lashes out. There’s something there about Gray dealing with gay or trans issues – her father states he doesn’t know what to do with her, and never wants her back – but Dark Phoenix never makes a greater point of it. A secondary plot dealing with Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) wrestling with his own morals ventures into the same territory (he controls Gray’s sense of self). But again, limps toward an unsatisfying climax.

Gray’s complex. Her history, her motives need explored; burying them under Dark Phoenix’s unrestrained and overlong action does no favors to this saga. This is three films of material, mashed together into one limp, thin comic book study that crushes narrative under CG lightning, lasers, and explosions. The story’s fight to be noticed is futile.

Dark Phoenix falls into a mish-mash of super powers so super as to render them all moot

“My kid used to be a fan,” says a no-name soldier to some X-Men in his custody. After Dark Phoenix, that’s likely true for others as well. Set in 1992, Gray enters the series at a difficult time. AIDS, Desert Storm, gay rights – pick one, because Dark Phoenix doesn’t. The core from the trio of prior X-Men films was the ability to weave history effectively into an alternate reality, reflecting dubious values and decisions of those times. In Dark Phoenix’s case, it’s no matter if it were set in ‘92 or ‘84 or ’76.

Even in terms of entertainment value, the finale builds to this titanic battle in New York that takes place on… one street corner. Then, moves the action to a claustrophobic train. Although bolstered by massive machines and anti-gravity powers, Dark Phoenix falls into a mish-mash of super powers so super as to render them all moot.

Of Marvel’s films (or Sony/Fox’s licensed Marvel output) since 2008, Fantastic Four 2015 still holds notoriety as the worst; that title is still safe. Dark Phoenix falls nearby though, struggling similarly to Fantastic Four (a film that intended to celebrate diversity, but kept the heroes confined in cages for their differences). Both never willingly understand the heroes, their fight, or their perspective.

Video

Aiming for a dry and moody aesthetic, reserved color sits in place for a majority of Dark Phoenix. That’s presented well with deep hues, and during a suburban brawl, opening up with hefty yellows and oranges. Cyclops’ eye lasers deliver, and shots in space give Earth a dazzling blue look. It’s a movie of moments in terms of vividness.

Luckily, digital cinematography uses HDR with gusto, adding vibrancy to a space-born haze, Storm’s electrical output, and other heated elements. Black levels take their opening shot when Jessica Chastain is introduced, the camera panning outdoors at night with astonishing shadows.

It’s a 2K source, and does look as such. Fine detail lacks the bite of true 4K images, if still resolved and notable. Costume and make-up work both deliver exceptional texture. Total clarity allows for superlative sights from space, and when in close, excellent consistency.

Audio

Remember demo-oriented THX logos? Say, a bunch of cows mooing in every channel? Dark Phoenix does something similar with its opening scene. A violent car accident blows up the subwoofer, turning into a slow motion flip that sends glass shards through the soundstage, delivering a shimmering sound into each speaker. Then, more boom when the car hits ground, further debris, spinning, and absolute home audio supremacy from this Atmos mix.

Dark Phoenix doesn’t play with subtly elsewhere, vicious in terms of low-end. Between rocket launches, explosions, massive storms, mounted gunfire, and more, every instance uses ridiculous levels of low-end power. This year’s summer releases lacked consistency between them, but discs like Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Dark Phoenix make up the difference.

While a little lean in terms of overhead support, elements like Storm’s lightning powers produce in the clutch; she flies out of a train, shooting electricity skyward with sound following. Bullets fly during the closed-in finale, and with the litany of objects thrown around via various powers, it’s a constant barrage of positional audio.

Extras

The UHD itself only holds a commentary from director Simon Kinberg and producer Hutch Parker. That’s also available on the Blu-ray, along with the additional extras. That includes a five part, 80-minute making of. Maybe it’s the indifferent attitude studios take with bonus features now, but this documentary goes deep into the production. Always with a smile, of course, if no less informative. Six deleted scenes a jokey short with Beast make for an acceptable climax.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
2

Movie

Dark Phoenix struggles to connect with core X-Men lore in any meaningful way, leading to bloated and insignificant action scenes.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 46 full 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: