WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
This is the story of one of the X-Mens most beloved characters, Jean Grey, as she evolves into the iconic Dark Phoenix. During a life-threatening rescue mission in space, Jean is hit by a cosmic force that transforms her into one of the most powerful mutants of all. Wrestling with this increasingly unstable power as well as her own personal demons, Jean spirals out of control, tearing the X-Men family apart and threatening to destroy the very fabric of our planet. The film is the most intense and emotional X-Men movie ever made. It is the culmination of 20 years of X-Men movies, as the family of mutants that we've come to know and love must face their most devastating enemy yet - one of their own.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
I remember when the first X-Men came out almost 20 years ago. As a ten-year-old, it was the first proper Marvel film that I can remember, and it started my love for the X-Men. When it was rebooted with First Class, I was so happy that it was getting another chance and one that looked like they knew what they were doing. Days of Future Past looked like it was going to continue the trend, but then Apocalypse unceremoniously graced our screens, a pile of garbage that made me run to the comic books far away from the cinematic universe (at least Logan and Deadpool gave us the love we deserved).
There was little hope for Dark Phoenix, spurred on by the collective opinion of the fandom, and the first trailer didn’t dissuade that opinion. And now we stand at the end of an era, as Dark Phoenix stands as the final instalment of the Fox X-Men. With Disney’s acquisition, ending a long feud over Marvel rights, X-Men will now join the gargantuan that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Dark Phoenix isn’t close to the trash-level that was Apocalypse, it’s still an average, a whimper of an ending to a series whose relevance in the modern world is perhaps even more important than that of the Avengers.
One of the X-Men comic books’ most famous storylines, Jean Grey, is changed after a space mission and begins a downward spiral into anger and dangerous power. While mutants from both sides try to contain her, another unknown threat looms over Earth.
While it may be easily one of the best and darkest stories from the comic books, it’s quite lazy that they would end the franchise on a story that’s been done before with a character (the Sophie Turner version) that we haven’t had a chance to grow to care about. While Xavier has had enough time in the limelight, it would have been more poignant to have one of his core storylines as the final adieu for the franchise (for me the Cassandra Nova story would have been the one) instead of regaling him to the sidelines. I do appreciate that the film does focus on his ego and takes no shortcuts to admonish him for his mistakes, but it falls flat in the grand scheme.
Now that that covers what they should have done let’s look at the story they delivered. It really wasn’t that terrible - the events unfolded as they would have, Turner is a damn good actress as Jean, and the emotional trauma does hit home. In one scene Xavier says, “It only takes one bad day…” when talking about mutants’ acceptance in society, and it reverberates into our real-life world. The X-Men has always been a story of intolerance, embracing difference, fighting prejudice and equal rights for all. And Dark Phoenix continues with that traditional storyline by showing the damage that one outlier can do to an entire group. But also, Magneto kicking ass and taking names is also pretty amazing.
Unfortunately, the holes in Dark Phoenix are big and many. The fact that Fox decided to give their final ode to one of their biggest franchises to a first-time director blows the mind, and his inexperience shows. Simon Kinberg may have been the longstanding producer of all the rebooted X-Men movies, including Logan and Deadpool, it’s not the same as taking the creative reigns to bring a story to life.
Besides Turner, the younger cast’s acting chops come out a little too well-done, the filmmakers casting aside their most charismatic one - Quicksilver - to only a handful of scenes. The villain, played by Jessica Chastain, might not be as nondescript as Apocalypse, she still doesn’t have much of any personality. Loose threads lie all over the place, the story constantly tripping over it, and the end was so stupidly simple it does a major disservice to Xavier and Eric’s complicated relationship, the sacrifices made by principal characters in the story and just glosses over the effect the events in the movie had on mutants’ precarious stance in society - you know - one of the cores of the X-Men franchise.
For those of us who grew up with the X-Men, original and rebooted, you should go watch Dark Phoenix just to say goodbye. Who knows what plans Marvel has (cough Storm’s origin story with Black Panther, please cough) - we can only hope that they revitalise the needed message of a group of heroes, fighting for a world that hates them, yet believes against hope in a better future for all.