- Review by Kaya Savas - July 2, 2019
As the summer chugs along, we are hit with another entry into a dying franchise. Dark Phoenix finally releases after a very long journey to the screen. The film was delayed due to reshoots, and to James Cameron wanting its original release date for Alita: Battle Angel. Dark Phoenix was never intended to be a giant blockbuster, but more so a redemption at the popular story arc that was botched in X-Men: The Last Stand. It was directed by long-time X-Men franchise writer and producer Simon Kinberg, who unfortunately didn’t do much to add new vision to this tired franchise. Oh and he somehow managed to get Hans Zimmer to score this thing?
Dark Phoenix is a rather good attempt at trying to explore a mind that is slowly losing control and spiraling into darkness. Hans had his work cut out for him since this movie was constantly changing throughout its struggled production. The picture changed so much that Hans had 16 hours worth of alternate material at the end of it. That’s right, SIXTEEN hours! Now, Hans is a man who loves the process. He absolutely loves working on a score, so much so that if there was no release date, he’d probably toil away forever on certain ideas. That leftover 16 hours is definitely somewhat a result of that. With a movie that was delayed, it just gave him a better chance to play around. However, I assume a big part of that was also that the filmmakers and studio had no idea what they wanted the movie to be.
The score itself won’t go down as one of Hans’s best. But there are a lot of cool structural things at play here, and the music is more textural than the traditional melodic Zimmer we know. We can definitely feel a Dunkirk hangover as Hans is still exploring with rhythmic builds. Another effective element to the score is the use of vocals. Now, Hans has a very specific sound for his vocals that appear in his romantic comedies like The Holiday and Megamind. He takes those vocals and uses them here almost like whispers in your head going out of control.
The score manages to find its pacing in the final act, and that third act is rather spectacular. We get those grandiose moments of pure raw emotion turned up to 11, and it’s pure Zimmer bliss. However, the road to those moments is bumpy and we can see Hans just trying to smooth out those bumps in the narrative with the score.
Dark Phoenix is quite interesting. From its rough road to getting made, to its weirdly disconnected feel to the rest of the franchise, having a writer make his directing debut, to having Hans jump on for the last hurrah before Disney and Marvel take over, and to the fact that Hans had 16 hours of alternates at the end of it. It’s all just pretty interesting.
The movie had good intentions, and delivers a decent experience. But in the end it’s not terribly memorable. Hans’s score does a good job of plugging leaks and keeping the ship afloat even if it’s not his most inspired work to date. For this journey, Hans received additional music help from the talented Steve Mazzaro and David Fleming, who without a doubt must have had a blast helping Hans build this textural and tactile score. The score has plenty of stuff worth diving into and to revisit, but you might not revisit it too often.