I just go out of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and I’ve got some good news for you – it’s not that bad!
Sure, that’s not a huge compliment, but, to be honest, I expected it to be terrible. Why did I have such dire expectations? First of all, the constant delays in release is never a good sign. Furthermore, those delays were, in part, due to the Disney acquisition which makes Dark Phoenix something of a lame duck. We all know Disney plans to reboot, recast, and generally redo the X-Men sometime in the near future, so Dark Phoenix had a little problem with making us care about it. Finally, judging from the previews and posters, Dark Phoenix looked far too similar to the ironically titled X-Men: The Last Stand. That was, for all intents and purposes, the Dark Phoenix story line mixed in with a lot of other … stuff. In other words, we’ve basically seen this movie … sort of.
I’m happy to tell you that, really, there weren’t that many similarities to The Last Stand. There are some, true, but those familiar beats are better fleshed out in Dark Phoenix than they were in The Last Stand. Dark Phoenix is only concerned with the plight of Jean Grey.
Also, let’s face it: Dark Phoenix has star power. Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain – these are big names! Let’s not forget up-and-comers like Nicolaus Hout, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. These are fun people to watch, and in the case of McAvoy and Fassbender, there is some serious acting being executed.
Dark Phoenix has very strong special effects as well. We get to see Magneto perform some impressive feats, as well as Jean Grey. Cyclops’ optic blasts have never looked better, nor have Nightcrawler’s “bamfs.” Beast looks fantastic even if his movement still feels a little awkward.
Of course, Dark Phoenix has some issues. The biggest issue is that, well, to a fairly large degree, we’ve already experienced the major themes of this movie. Jean’s struggle with the Dark Phoenix was dealt with in The Last Stand, and while I think this movie did it better, it’s still well-covered territory.
Furthermore, Dark Phoenix didn’t seem all that interested in explaining much. I know from my misspent youth that the cosmic energy that Jean absorbs is called “The Phoenix Force,” but the movie barely touches upon it at all and never calls it by name. If I’m a casual movie goer, I have no idea what that’s all about. Consequently, we’re given no reason for the arrival of the cosmic force at all – it just kind of made its way to Earth. The movie also skipped a pretty important step in telling us why Jean Grey is the only entity capable of utilizing this cosmic energy. They constantly talk about how “strong” she is, but that’s a pretty lazy cop out.
Jessica Chastain is a movie star, no doubt, but she was given very little to work with. Look, I’ll watch Jessica act no matter what movie she’s in, but her character was about as thin as you can get. There’s ample tropes and cliches regarding her motivation, but it doesn’t amount to much.
Speaking of character, is anyone else tired of sad Jean Grey? Jean Grey is a wonderful, multi-dimensional character, but the movies can’t seem to get past this whole “Dark Phoenix” thing, which was a seminal moment for her character, to be sure, but not her only moment. It seems as though no one can do anything on film with her other than depict her as a tortured spirit, crying most of the time, and always on the verge of losing control. Jean Grey is so much more than that. I wish Sophie Turner got to show us Jean Grey the teacher, the leader, and the heart of the X-Men.
Another note about character – I love what they did with Professor Xavier. They really made him interesting in a way I haven’t seen before. Everyone else, though? Not so much. Cyclops is just kind of there, likewise with Storm. Magneto is still Magneto doing Magneto things. Quicksilver is barely in this film at all, which is a real tragedy. And I hate what they did with Nightcrawler. Hate it. He’s one of my favorite characters and they really dropped the ball with him.
Best moment? A brief, ever so brief, blink and you’ll miss it moment featuring a certain X-Men favorite. I’m not sure how many people will know her when they see her, but it was great. It was true to her character, fun, and – like I said – brief.
If you’ve enjoyed McAvoy and Fassbender’s X-Men movies, go ahead and see this. It’s not as good as the first two but better than Apocalypse. I wouldn’t consider this a “must-see” movie, but it’s probably better than you expect.
Oh, and don’t bother sitting through the credits. There’s nothing there.
One last word of warning. If you’re taking kids to this thing, there is an F-bomb dropped near the ending. It’s completely unnecessary, but it’s there.