Dark Phoenix has been in theaters for just under three weeks and in the eyes of many the movie is dead in the water. Unfortunately lackluster reviews and negative word of mouth have put a damper on any hype for this movie. I will say that I had little hope of Dark Phoenix being a good movie. Much of this feeling is based on how much I disliked X-Men: Apocalypse. Apocalypse is arguably the worst of the X-Men movies. The added knowledge that Jennifer Lawrence was on board again as Mystique added to my negative feelings. Being a long time X-Men fan I felt compelled to see Dark Phoenix in the theater. After viewing Dark Phoenix I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the movie. There are several issues, but it is a solid film and a worthy addition to the X-Men franchise. Below are some observations, criticisms and praise for this misunderstood X-Men film. There are some minor spoilers.
Once again the creative people have opted to explore the expansive Dark Phoenix Saga far too soon. They did not learn from the mistakes of the first X-Men trilogy. There is so much back story to The Dark Phoenix Saga, as told in the X-Men comic book series. The main story line would require two films to properly flesh out this epic saga. This new group of actors have barely had time to gel together and they are thrown into the Dark Phoenix story line. As viewers we still have yet to get to know these new versions of Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Storm and Jean Grey. Since we barely know Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey, her transformation into Dark Phoenix loses a lot of emotional weight.
The set up of the film feels a bit forced. The movie opens with a flashback to a traumatic event from Jean Grey’s childhood. Soon after we see the mission where Jean Grey has her initial encounter with the Phoenix Force. These opening sequences are story lines that should have appeared in X-Men movies prior to Dark Phoenix. Placing these sequences in earlier X-Men movies as a build up to Dark Phoenix would have made for a more dramatic and emotional film. Stuffing all of this into one film is just too much at one time. When Jean Grey begins her transformation into Dark Phoenix the flow of the movie improves and the story takes flight. If only there had been at least one more X-Men movie prior to Dark Phoenix. We really need to spend more time with this new team of X-Men. One more movie and we would see what makes them tick and how they interact with one another. More time spent with these characters would have increased the emotional attachment and enhanced the dark and dramatic story.
Michael Fassbender has already established himself as the younger version of the powerful villain Magneto. He has never been as good as his more mature counterpart, Ian McKellen, however Fassbender has made the role his own. I am not sure why the powers that be feel that Magneto has to be in every X-Men movie. That minor quibble aside, Fassbender puts in his best work as Magneto in Dark Phoenix. He spends the bulk of the movie out of his usual costume, but he is still unquestionably Magneto.
I am not a fan of Jennifer Lawrence, but I will give her credit. She was good in her prior appearances in the previous X-Men movies. Because of her popularity as an actress I understand the amount of screen time given to Mystique. She was quite good in X-Men: Days Of Future Past. The issue I have is her growing importance with each X-Men movie. In Dark Phoenix she is now a leader of the X-Men?!? Apparently Lawrence did not want to do this film. Unfortunately she did agree to appear in the movie, much to my displeasure.
On the flip side, the appearance of Dazzler was an extremely pleasant surprise. Her role is brief and inconsequential, but it is exciting. Seeing her gave me the hope that one day she will get her own movie. After her introduction in 1980, in the X-Men comic book series, there was some buzz about this new and different character. Unfortunately that buzz died pretty quickly after she was given her own comic book. I hope that this is not the last time that we see Dazzler.
Sophie Turner is far from an obvious casting choice for Jean Grey. She does an admirable job throughout Dark Phoenix. Her performance grows stronger as the movie progresses. The only real issue is the timing of this film. We do not have much of a sense as to who this new Jean Grey is. The movie would have more emotional weight if we had spent more time with her and these new X-Men. Apart from Professor X, The Beast and Magneto my emotional investment to this new group of actors is minimal. As a viewer I simply have not spent enough time with them to get to know who they are.
There is not much in the way of character development for most of the team. James McAvoy, once again, portrays a convincing version of a younger Charles Xavier/Professor X. Throughout the course of the movie we see his triumphs and his tragedies. As the founder of the X-Men his decisions, good and bad, have consequences. Cyclops is given some brief private interplay with Jean Grey. The Beast deals with his feelings for Mystique and his growing disagreement with Professor X. Unfortunately the rest of the characters do not see any further development. We only see Storm, Nightcrawler and Quicksilver in relation to their mutant abilities.
The antagonists are the D-Bari, led by Vuk. The D-Bari, a group of aliens, are looking to track down and utilize the Phoenix Force for their own purposes. An explanation of the D-Bari’s abilities would have helped a great deal. As the movie progresses some of their abilities are made known. However, it is never explained why Vuk is so powerful, especially compared to the other D’Bari. The strength and abilities of the D’Bari challenge the X-Men in a way unseen in prior movies. As a result Dark Phoenix features some of the best action sequences in the X-Men series.
Dark Phoenix is a movie that deserves a far better fate. The biggest problem is not the movie itself, but the timing of the movie. It is much too soon for this massive story line. We as viewers have not had time to see the evolution of Jean Grey. We do not see her introduction as Marvel Girl. We did not witness her growth and evolution as she becomes Phoenix. Seeing the whole history of the character makes her transformation into Dark Phoenix all the more tragic. Avengers: Infinity Wars and Endgame have so much emotional weight because we spent time with the characters. We saw many of their beginnings and slowly watched them evolve and grow as people and as heroes. To properly bring The Dark Phoenix Saga to life requires time and patience. Dark Phoenix is the second rushed attempt at this classic story line. Overall the movie works well. The cast did the best that they could with what they were given. Dark Phoenix is not perfect, but it is a movie that I would recommend.
It is likely that the X-Men franchise is going to be recast and rebooted. I do hope that the higher ups will learn the important lessons of X-Men: The Last Stand and Dark Phoenix. This is not a story line to be rushed. It needs to be well planned out and ultimately told in an epic two part movie. I do hope that when they opt to revisit this story line that the third time proves to be the charm.