It was alright. This is perhaps the most underwhelming opinion anyone can have about a movie, but that’s exactly my take on Dark Phoenix. Having this opinion is quite tragic since the X-Men were my introduction to superheroes, from the first film all the way back in 2000 to the sensational 90s animated series. The franchise has been a primary influence on my pop culture experience, so to see it go out with a fizzle rather than a bang was very disappointing.
Don’t ask me about the timelines. I can’t figure it out. Days of Future Past erased the original trilogy from existence and created a reset point with Apocalypse and now Dark Phoenix. However, the ending of this film will confuse many who still remember the final scenes from Days of Future Past.
To unfuck the mess, this Screenrant article will be quite helpful.
Returning to Dark Phoenix, we pick up some years after the end of Apocalypse where the X-Men are revered in the United States. What’s more, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has his very own personal phone connection leading to the President’s desk. Undertaking a form of role reversal, Charles and his childhood friend Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) have swapped their sense of responsibility, With Raven appearing to be the sensible and grounded mutant while Charles preens his ego, hobnobbing with journalists and politicians.
A space foray sees some of the X-Men, with Raven as the captain-on-deck, head off to save the crew of Endeavour, a space shuttle dangerously close to a solar flare. While the rescue operation goes on successfully, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) gets caught up in the solar flare and absorbs its energy completely. The other X-Men manage to bring her back to earth alive, but she’s got a massive hangover to deal with.
What follows is director Simon Kinberg’s shot at redemption with the Dark Phoenix storyline, having co-written the 2006 iteration of the saga directed by Brett Ratner. Naturally, the plotlines are quite similar, starting with Jean’s resurrection in the first act. The major difference this time around is that the solar flare is a cosmic power that eliminated an entire species known as the D’Bari. Now, of course, the D’Bari and their shapeshifters led by Jessica Chastain are the new party, keen on using Jean and the energy source within her to create a new home for their race.
There is hardly much I can say to elevate the lowest-rated X-Men film. The exposition-heavy dialogue was quite the letdown and coupled with the one-dimensional villains, there isn’t much to be excited about here. Chastain is as placid and vacuous as a woman after getting Botox, and her cohort is no better. The D’Bari are presented as a more restrained and nonchalant species, so it should be relatively easy to overlook these characters and focus mostly on the X-Men.
The redeeming quality in the film is a healthy serving of nostalgia about all that has come before this, and what is to be missed when the end credits roll. Spanning the course of 12 movies, characters like Professor X and Magneto have gracefully occupied our collective conscience for close to 20 years. Factor in the animated series and the comic books and this figure gets larger, spanning a more extended period. This is a farewell in many regards, and given that, we owe it to these characters to show up and watch them one last time.
You can legitimately take pride in these performances. An A-list cast of heavy hitters gives it their best, from James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender to Jennifer Lawrence and Sophie Turner. Lawrence presents Raven’s undeniable maturity over the last few films with a calm and collected grace and poise. Turner captures the psychological volatility of Jean Grey, exacerbated by the gargantuan external force causing havoc in her mind. Whether she’s confronting the truth about her past with Xavier or crying alone in a dark alley, Jean’s frail and floundering nature is there for all to witness. Nicholas Hoult chips in with an underrated performance as Hank McCoy, but some of his more powerful moments are undercut and diminished by some sloppy writing. Your tears are more than enough in some scenes, Nicholas, you don’t have to spell everything out. That is the primary letdown here. The writers choose to articulate motivations and objectives with speech too frequently, creating a slightly soapy effect throughout the movie.
Dark Phoenix is the last of Fox’s X-Men movies, so it is genuinely a farewell to the faces you’ve come to know over the years. There won’t be any groundbreaking CGI work or action sequences, let alone a monstrously clever story beat or plot contrivance. The Dark Phoenix storyline is mostly regurgitated material with some minor alterations, but the cast comes out in full force to produce some emotional portrayals under dire conditions.
We might know some friends who are truly wonderful people, but because of the environment and situations they find themselves in, they’re unable to excel at what they do. We wouldn’t abandon them in this scenario, and we shouldn’t abandon the cast of Dark Phoenix. Show up and give them a final round of applause before the curtain call. James, Michael, Nicholas, and Jennifer deserve that much at least.