‘Dark Phoenix’ turns to ashes

Imagine teenagers having to clean the family bathroom on a Sunday morning as part of their chores: they don’t want to do it, but they have to, lest they face the wrath of their parents.

So they clean it up with as little heart and effort as possible despite having the proper tools and equipment – as a result, the bathroom ends up messier than before.

“X-Men: Dark Phoenix” is the film equivalent of that bathroom. As the franchise prepares to reboot into the Marvel Cinematic Universe following parent studio 20th Century Fox’s purchase by Disney.

Whatever goodwill the “X-Men” franchise had built up before this has been unceremoniously thrown out the window with a shrug.

The film revisits Jean Grey’s Phoenix saga, previously explored in “X-Men: The Last Stand”, but this time with the young-blood cast carried over from “First Class” onwards. A space rescue mission goes awry when Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbs a bizarre cosmic entity that aggressively enhances her powers.

This causes a rift within the X-Men when her powers prove too destructive, but things take another turn when a mysterious woman (Jessica Chastain) attempts to manipulate Jean for her own nefarious reasons.

The cliche-ridden film is written and directed by Simon Kinberg, who’s been a head writer of the “X-Men” franchise since “Last Stand”, and is now making his directorial début. Instead of fulfilling his intention to rectify his mistakes made with “Last Stand”, he has done the exact opposite.

The film feels lethargic throughout, as action scenes with sometimes questionable CGI simply happen without any semblance of a plot, momentum, or energy. One cliché that the film uses – a big action finale atop and inside a speeding train, feels really bland to look at.

xXx 2: The Next Level is more exciting

It is apparent that the film is in trouble when “xXx 2: The Next Level” (also written by Kinberg) has a more exciting train sequence than this.

Though Kinberg’s writing betrays some character traits that were established in previous films, let it be said that James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender can do no wrong acting-wise, no matter the quality of the film they’re in.

They really inhabit their characters well and they do come off as long-time “frenemies” without even trying. Sadly Jennifer Lawrence just looks increasingly bored with each new “X-Men” film.

She looks like she wants to be somewhere else. The rest of the performances were pretty much competent across the board, but it’s unforgivable that the film utterly wastes Jessica Chastain as a very forgettable villain.

It’s a shame that a once-fun franchise that gave us “Days of Future Past” and the powerful “Logan” ends with a product seemingly made by a committee rather than an actual film maker, just to “get it over with.”

Kinberg’s insistence to drown the film in self-seriousness – a trait that also plagued his 2015 “Fantastic Four” reboot, saps the film dry of joy or any emotional potential, leaving a US$200 million blockbuster that is boring and lifeless to look at.

Not even Hans Zimmer’s loud score can make this dud exciting. It looks like every franchise has one good day to die hard.