Film review – X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Dark Phoenix

With Disney having taken over Twentieth Century Fox, giving Marvel Studios the rights to use the X-Men, Dark Phoenix will be the second-to-last film in Fox’s long-running X-Men franchise, assuming that The New Mutants actually ends up being released at some point. While there’s been more good than bad in this franchise, it’s experienced a lack of continuity that makes it hard to get fully invested from film to film: actors changing, the timeline going back and forth, powers and origins being inconsistent, characters not aging as they should, Mystique’s blue-form appearance changing between films because Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t like wearing the makeup, etc. After the disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse, I wasn’t particularly excited to see these particular versions of the X-Men come back one more time for Dark Phoenix. And indeed, the final film is nothing to get excited about.

It’s 1992, and after years of prejudice and distrust from the public and the government, the X-Men are finally receiving their due as heroes – a status that is reinforced at the beginning of the film, when they successfully rescue the crew of a disabled Space Shuttle. During the rescue, however, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is exposed to a bombardment of strange cosmic energy; soon afterwards, she begins to exhibit uncontrollable surges of power, leaving her confused, angry and dangerous. When Jean flees the school, the other X-Men try to find and help her – but a party of aliens have arrived on Earth, seeking the energy inside Jean for their own purposes.

This is, of course, the second film in the franchise to try and tackle the famous Dark Phoenix storyline, after 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. I’m not sure if this is a controversial opinion, but I preferred The Last Stand’s version. Granted, that one has plenty of problems too – check out the 90s animated series if you want to see a good version of the Dark Phoenix – but you could appreciate the stakes and how dangerous Jean had become; plus, it was the third film with that particular cast and after how good X-Men and X-2 were, we cared about them more. Dark Phoenix, on the other hand, feels too small and simplistic, not dissimilar to Apocalypse – and that film, by the way, didn’t provide much reason to care about the most recent cast.

The film starts out promisingly with its Shuttle rescue scene, as Jean, Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler and Quicksilver all get to make meaningful contributions to the mission. This is followed by some well-paced character development scenes; the treatment of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has potential, as he gets swept up in the public’s positive perception of mutants and is accused of putting his students at risk for his own glory. Once Jean becomes the Phoenix, however, things go downhill. The second act is little more than Jean hopping from one place to another, pursued by the X-Men and the authorities, while we only get a vague idea of what the Phoenix energy is and what it’s doing to her. In terms of audience investment, it’s also a mistake to have some random aliens we’ve never met before be the main villains; it feels like an oversimplification of a story that has much more potential. Not to mention, Jessica Chastain is completely wasted as the lead alien.

One thing the film does get right is having the right number of mutants to focus on; there aren’t too many of them, and while a couple are put out of action halfway through, the rest continue to get their moments to shine. However, possibly in the knowledge that they’re done after this film, most of the actors – from James McAvoy to Jennifer Lawrence – simply aren’t trying very hard. Michael Fassbender as Magneto is the standout simply by effectively conveying genuine, subtle emotion when called upon to do so; though he also gets a scene where he’s straining to use his powers and has to demonstrate the effort by hamming it up with his mouth wide open, looking more silly than dramatic.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is not a terrible film – it’s slightly better than Apocalypse, and certainly surpasses X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Nor is it a good film, however; it’s mildly entertaining, but no more than that. Now, let’s wait and see what Marvel Studios do with these characters. Rating: 2.5/5.

About R.J. Southworth

Hi there. I've been blogging since January 2014, and I like to talk about all sorts of things: book reviews, film reviews, writing, science, history, or sometimes just sharing miscellaneous thoughts. Thanks for visiting my blog, and I hope you find something that interests you!
This entry was posted in Film Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Film review – X-Men: Dark Phoenix

  1. If I’m being honest, at this point, Fox has made so many of these X-Men movies over the last twenty years that they’re all kind of starting to blend together in my head with their ‘mutants vs mutants vs mutant haters’ formula. It doesn’t help that like you said, the audience’s personal attachment to the X-Men has taken a hit since the continuity reboot in “Days Of Future Past”, erasing most of their history and everything that happened in the first six or seven movies. My feelings on this franchise are very lukewarm.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s