A fitting finale to 20th Century Fox’s inconsistent and often confusing X-Men franchise, Dark Phoenix is an unmotivated second attempt at the classic Jean Grey-centric storyline, with only a few enjoyable breaks from an overall lacklustre film for fans and general audiences alike.
Perhaps it’s a bit too easy to focus the negatives in the latest and final major instalment of Fox’s X-Men films, due to the less than desirable circumstances surrounding the 12th film in the franchise’s release. With Marvel Studios now owning the characters (making their appearance in the MCU possible in the future) and the fate of the already-filmed New Mutants uncertain, Dark Phoenix seemed to be less a labour of love and more just a labour. Having undergone significant reshoots to its final act and with murmurs of actors unhappy to return, it’s amazing that Dark Phoenix was as cohesive as it was. That being said, the film leaves a lot to be desired.
First, some of the good aspects. The film’s opening scenes gives us a more detailed look at the origin of this new incarnation of Jean Grey, played by Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones), who returns to the role from 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse. However, this backstory comes in the form of Summer Fontana portraying a younger version of Jean, as we see the tragic circumstances that lead to her joining the team. It was also great to see Jean Grey being the lead role in the film, something that should be expected from a story based around her character becoming the “Dark Phoenix”, despite X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006 portraying her as more of an antagonist.
We also got to see several showcases of the X-Men’s powers in some new situations, most notably in a mission to space in the film’s first act. For me, Nightcrawler is a personal favourite and watching him play a larger role in the team than some of the previous instalments was definitely a high point. While some of these action sequences – including the film’s final act – were entertaining enough, they often felt slightly superfluous to the film’s overall story.
Despite Dark Phoenix being a story known to many from The Last Stand, a lot of the film’s plot was confusing and seemed to skip over details that would have aided the audience’s understanding. What is the Phoenix Force? Why exactly was it attracted to Jean? Can anyone use this power? Can only one person wield it at a time? While generic dialogue and a very brief flashback scene try to explain these questions, the answers given are less than satisfying and quickly ignored in favour of a violent New York mutant fight scene.
A lot of the film’s fight scenes seemed overly violent compared to previous instalments, taking the word “Dark” in the film’s title a bit too seriously. The more grounded action scenes seemed comparable to the edgy and gritty comics of the 1990’s – fittingly so, being the era that the film is set in. Some of the fightings even comes off as out of character for the mutants involved, but then again character is something severally overlooked throughout the film.
While I can easily forgive CGI’d destruction and gratuitous fight scenes, it’s harder to really enjoy a film like Dark Phoenix when you can’t understand what the characters’ motivations are. The film boasts a substantial and incredible cast, consisting of: Turner as Jean, James McAvoy (Split, Atomic Blonde) as Professor X, Michael Fassbender (Frank, Macbeth) as Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence (mother!, Red Sparrow) as Raven/Mystique, Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, Equals) as Beast, Evan Peters (American Horror Story, Pose) as Quicksilver, Tye Sheridan (Ready Player One) as Cyclops, Alexandra Shipp (Straight Outta Compton) as Storm, Kodi Smit-McPhee (Alpha) as Nightcrawler and Jessica Chastain (Interstellar, Molly’s Game) as the villainous Vuk.
Despite so many big names stacking the poster, none of the characters in Dark Phoenix felt like they had any solid motivation beyond what was convenient for the plot. Some characters that I personally felt were underused include Chastain’s Vuk, who does very little despite the talented name behind the role, Peters’ Quicksilver, who was a fan favourite in previous films, and even McAvoy’s Xavier, who does little to maintain the same leadership role that he has had throughout previous X-Men films. The best performance probably comes from Fassbender’s Magneto, but I can’t help but feel the actors had little to do with their underwhelming portrayals on screen.
It really is hard to tell what exactly went wrong with Dark Phoenix. Whether it was due to Simon Kinberg’s directorial debut (despite being involved in several X-Men films, including The Last Stand) or just a general lack of enthusiasm after Disney’s purchase of 20th Century Fox, Dark Phoenix comes off as a film that didn’t have as much love in its production as some of the more beloved of the X-Men films.
While it may not be the ending to the Fox X-Men universe that fans have hoped for, Dark Phoenix at worst brings nearly two decades of X-Men films to a close. With future instalments inevitable in the hands of Marvel Studios and Disney, we can only hope that third time’s the charm for Jean Grey’s most iconic story to find success on the silver screen.
About the author
ABOUT THE WRITER: Harry Sabulis is a film, music, theatre and media crazed writer with a passion for all things artsy. A certified nerd and aspiring screenwriter, Harry loves storytelling in all of its forms. You can read some of his film reviews on his blog, Kill The Critic.