Dark Phoenix is the X-Men franchise’s second attempt at telling the Dark Phoenix story, after attempting to tell it in 2006’s The Last Stand, and it is the second time they have failed to tell it properly and tell it well. Now while The Last Stand was a complete disaster in terms of tone, character development, and story, Dark Phoenix is more so of a disappointment than a bad film. There are aspects of the film that aren’t good, namely the performances from actors, but there are a lot of good ideas and themes here that would have been better served in a new trilogy rather than a singular film.
The Dark Phoenix Saga is arguably the most infamous X-Men comic book storyline ever. The story revolves around Jean Grey (played here by Sophie Turner), one of the key members of the X-Men, who is exposed to a solar flare in space that brings her powers as a telepath and telekinetic to their fullest potential, causing her to reek chaos against anyone who stands in her way, including the X-Men. Dark Phoenix follows this story pretty much exactly, which is a positive change from The Last Stand, which only featured elements of the story, making it never fully make sense. Though Dark Phoenix follows the story pretty closely, it’s the other things happening in the film that make the film fail as a whole.
Along with the Dark Phoenix storyline, the film also features a number of subplots. There’s the new growth and arrogance of Professor Xavier (James McAvoy), the power struggle between Xavier and Jean, as Xavier has held Jean’s true power back, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, who looks miserable) wanting to start a new life outside of the X-Men, the blooming love story between Jean and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Magneto (Michael Fassbender, who is doing good work, yet you can tell he can’t wait for it to be over) starting what looks like a new civilization for mutants to be away from the public, and the X-Men’s new relationship with the government, in which they are considered heroes until Jean begins her destruction, which then turns them into enemies. There is also some nonsense about an alien race called the D’Bari, who’s planet was taken out by the solar flare that was absorbed by Jean and the few who are left alive are led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain, sleepwalking through the whole movie) and on a mission to retrieve the Phoenix energy from Jean. Imagine putting all of this, plus the Dark Phoenix story, into one movie that comes in under two hours? The result is exactly what you think it is. Nothing is established, everything is rushed, and a lot stuff doesn’t make sense, making for a lifeless experience.
What’s most frustrating about Dark Phoenix is the wasted potential of the young cast, interesting subplots, and properly telling the Dark Phoenix story. This young cast, of Turner, Sheridan, Evan Peters as Quicksilver, Kodi Smit-McPhee as NIghtcrawler, Alexandra Shipp as Storm, and the other young mutants in the film were all introduced to us in the last film, Apocalypse, and they were only side characters whom we barely got to know (save for Quicksilver, who we met in Days of Future Past and know a little more). This is a group of talented actors who were perfectly cast in their X-Men roles, yet were only given really a movie and a half to show us these characters. The older actors, McAvoy, Lawrence, Fassbender, the First Class actors, are all done with this franchise and you can read it on their faces throughout the film. But these young actors, these new characters, these are characters that needed their own series of movies.
Imagine if they turned this movie into a trilogy? Jean Grey has never been the focus of the X-Men franchise. The original trilogy was focused on Wolverine and this prequel franchise was focused on Xavier, Megneto, and Mystique (I guess?). But Jean was never the focal point, which is one of the main reasons why they have never made a successful Dark Phoenix movie. If they made a Dark Phoenix trilogy with the themes and subplots that were in this movie, plus Jean at the center and the rest of this young cast, we would actually have something here.
This is all probably the product of the new Disney/Fox deal that will send the X-Men to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But rather than let the X-Men franchise end with Apocalypse, they forced a legendary story into one movie and for what? Did it need to be told? Did it flow within the franchises story arc? The answer to both of these is no. The correct answer is money. This movie is the definition of a cash grab movie. A movie made from a franchise that was all but over. With the X-Men now in Disney’s hands, I hope they make a proper adaptation of the Dark Phoenix saga. The X-Men franchise kicked off the modern superhero genre and it is one of the most important franchises ever and one I will never forget. However, they are ending on a real sour note. A note of disappointment and desperation.
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