The original Dark Phoenix Saga from the comics is a wonky story. There are some really dumb elements, such as hypnotizing Jean Grey into believing she was reliving an ancestor’s memories and the X-Men being arrested by an alien race for the genocide of an entire alien race. Okay, this is an oversimplification of the events but you know that it’s still dumb.
But even though The Phoenix Saga has its stupid moments, I will still contend that it’s one of the best X-Men stories ever. Heck, I’ll even say that it’s one of the best Marvel comic story arcs out there, ranking up there with The Infinity Gauntlet and Civil War. That’s because everything hits us with emotional content. We feel for the characters and we understand their motivations. It’s because of our emotional connection with the X-Men and the other characters that makes The Dark Phoenix Saga one of the most beloved Marvel arcs of all time.
The latest X-Men movie, X-Men: Dark Phoenix? Not so much.
Before you read on, let me just tell you that this review will be a SPOILER FREE review as this isn’t even out in some territories. This just means you can read on safe in the thought that I won’t reveal any major plot points.
Dark Phoenix takes place in the ’90s, a decade after the events of X-Men: Apocalypse. The X-Men head into space to save the crew of a space shuttle that was damaged by a solar flare. During the mission, Jean Grey is engulfed by the solar flare, unwittingly absorbing the Phoenix, a cosmic power with the strength to both create and destroy life. Back on Earth, Jean and the X-Men struggle with her newfound strength as she has trouble controlling the Phoenix Force.
This is reportedly the final installment of the current X-Men film franchise as Disney purchased Fox and all of its properties. So if you were expecting the film to end everything with a bang, sorry. You’re not in luck. Dark Phoenix is one of the most mediocre and boring superhero films I’ve seen in a while. I will admit that I was intrigued with the first third of the film as you can see Jean Grey’s personality start to change thanks to the Phoenix Force. The problem is that the movie kind of flatlines after that. While there are some important plot points and character motivations change, you never feel any real agency as to anything that’s happening on the screen.
I’m not really sure what went wrong here but I believe it’s partly because of how it everything feels rushed. It’s like Simon Kinberg, who wrote and directed Dark Phoenix, needed to get to the next plot point or action scene and this resulted in any and all character development being cut and never explored. The close friendship between Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto and Charles Xavier never feels palpable here. Mystique’s being a respected commander within the X-Men feels forced. The weird thing is that, while everything feels rushed, Dark Phoenix’s total runtime is at a healthy 114 minutes! Adding anything would make it feel even more bloated than it already is!
James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Charles Xavier and Magneto have some really strong scenes here but you don’t really get to see them as the plot generally follows Jean Grey’s escalating powers and the difficulty she has controlling them. Thankfully, Sophie Turner, who plays Jean Grey, does a phenomenal job of depicting the struggle she has within her. This was a pleasant surprise to me as I really didn’t care for her performance in Apocalypse. Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey in that film just was a stiff board and I’m glad that she turned things up a notch here.
Sadly, everyone else’s acting is just stiff. Between James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Sophie Turner, everyone seems like they’re there to stand around and collect a paycheck. Even Jennifer Lawrence, who is reprising her role as Mystique for the final time, is just phoning it it. But probably the worst offender is Jessica Chastain as… the leader of the bad guys. Her performance is either robotic and unemotional or over the top and cartoony.
Speaking of the bad guys, Dark Phoenix has one of the blandest group of villains since Thor: Ragnarok’s Dark Elves. They were just there and, in all honestly, weren’t needed one bit! They felt like they were added because Fox couldn’t envision a film that didn’t have a bunch of bad guys for the heroes to beat up on during the action scenes.
I can generally forgive an action/superhero movie that has really bland characters if the action scenes are on point. Too bad Dark Phoenix doesn’t get that right, either! The fight scenes fail to thrill and you never feel like any weight is being thrown around with the punches, kicks and, well, the energy bolts. Nothing feels like they land with any impact at all. What’s worse is that there aren’t any spectacular moments during the battles. There aren’t even any larger than life scenes in Dark Phoenix that stand out. At least The Last Stand, Fox’s first crack with the Phoenix Saga, had that one moment where Magneto warps the Golden Gate Bridge to marshal his forces into Alcatraz! Dark Phoenix doesn’t have anything close to that.
I will say some of the special effects are good. I especially like the shots of Jean Grey’s skin cracking when channeling the Phoenix force and her floating and flying in the air. Any scene that has Nightcrawler showcasing his teleportation powers is also nice. Unfortunately, most of the really big special effect shots come off as lackluster. This is especially true with any scenes showing off the Phoenix Force and any shots where someone changes from one form to another. They’re were unconvincing and never came off as really happening. And as these moments happen frequently throughout Dark Phoenix, it becomes more of a distraction that can take you out of the film.
Which, in retrospect, is fine because I was never got into Dark Phoenix all that deep. I will even go as far to say that it’s even worse than The Last Stand! At least I had some emotional connection to that film! Okay, that emotion is disgust but at least I still remember it! Dark Phoenix just fails to impress and fails to stick out. Despite some fantastic performances from Sophie Turner, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, Dark Phoenix is a terribly forgettable film. This is doubly sad, considering this film is supposed to close out Fox’s run with the X-Men franchise.
Oh, well. Maybe Disney can finally do Dark Phoenix right.
Have you seen X-Men: Dark Phoenix? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!