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Dark Phoenix

At Cinemark

(PG-13)

C+

Lord Acton’s warned us that “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I always find myself assuming Acton had males in mind when he added that “great men are almost always bad men.”

That’s a rather sexist assumption, I admit, but it stems from my belief that the world has been and remains quite patriarchal in its distribution of power and wealth. The history of the male world tends to a history of war. Perhaps females would be peacemakers not war makers? Worth a try?

Pardon my detour from the movie du jour into gender studies, but let’s go further.

Law schools and medical students are now more than 50% female. But males still hold 75% of the seats in congress, and among the Fortune 500 companies only 25 CEOs were female.

Gender equity is an issue in the arts as well, of course. Among the top 250 films of 2018, only 8% were directed by females. More females wrote scripts, 16%. More than 25% of producers were female.

Which brings us, at long last, to movies and the encouraging presence of more females as the main protagonists in blockbusters: “Wonder Woman,” “Captain Marvel” are examples. Among Young Adult films, “Hunger Games” and “Twilight” featured strong female leads.

The latest example is “Dark Phoenix.” It’s curiously ironic that the “X-Men” saga ends with an X-Woman in the lead. (Fear not, “X-Men” will return, but there’s talk of a major reboot of cast and crew as Disney prepares to relaunch the franchise.)

Should we be encouraged that mutant Jean Grey headlines an “X-Men” film?

Perhaps, but it would have helped if “Dark Phoenix” had been a better film.

“Dark Phoenix” is a story of a female who obtains more power than she can handle, and struggles not to descend down Lord Acton’s spiral into corruption.

What might have been an exploration of how females might handle power more compassionately than males dissolves into a forgettable formula action flick, complete with glowing eyes.

“Dark Phoenix” centers on Jean, who was already a mutant, but now she’s seemingly indestructible and has to be very careful with her powers, which she can only partially control.

That’s a familiar theme in the super-hero world: a young person discovers her gift and must harness that force before she is corrupted by the power.

We start when Jean Grey was a child, sitting in the back of her parents’ car. She really wishes mom would change the music playing on the car radio.

Mom says no, telling Jean she’ll get that privilege when she earns her driving license.

Jean isn’t happy – and she does more than sulk. Jean turns her wish into psycho-energy and the radio changes stations without being touched. Mom is so shocked she loses control of the car – and is killed. Jean survives, and is sent to the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters for rehab.

That’s a very compelling start. A number of themes are in place. We have a female super-hero whose first experience with her power is deadly. We have an orphan who needs love.

Fast forward to the older Jean Grey who is sent on a rescue mission to space and encounters a super force that exponentially increases her power.

Soon, Jean will have to decide how she will handle her power. We remember the radio and wonder if Jean can avoid repeating her tragic history.

We know absolute power corrupts absolutely, but perhaps a female can somehow withstand that temptation? Or will gender prove irrelevant?

Just when I was working up hope for “Dark Phoenix” the story dissolved into a series of boring battles.

The stellar cast includes Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and Michael Fassbender, all of whom seem a bit bored with their jobs.

The bright spots are Sophie Turner as older Jean and Summer Fontana as the 8-year-old Jean. Until her eyes begin to glow, Sophie was a compelling heroine, battling for control.

But electric eyes manage to mute the mutant’s power.

I still found Jean’s struggle compelling at times. Seeing a few mutants encounter mortality was reassuring.

But, overall, “Dark Phoenix” wasted a lot of chances to blend sci-fi and gender into something special.

In the end, our final meeting with these X-folks ends up being a pretty lame send off.

Ultimately, the promising concept of young female handling enormous power was wasted. The shallow script was content to skim the surface like a water skipper, rather than to dive for the depths like a hungry pelican.

Opportunity missed.

 

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