Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, and before comic books films were a hit, the superhero genre was not very well received. While some films based on comics shined through, such as Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) and Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) others just fell off. That is until Marvel, after selling off most of their characters film rights, had their first box office success with Blade in 1998. Blade showed that comic book films could be taken seriously and translate well written characters on the big screen. While Blade had done well, it wouldn’t be until Marvels next film with 20th Century Fox’s X-Men (2000) where the comic book renaissance￼ would begin.
12 X-Men based films later, and we have the latest and possible final? X-Men film produced by Fox in Dark Phoenix written and directed by Simon Kinberg. Now I could sit here and bash this film as many others have, but I’m not going to. Let’s get this out of the way, do I think this is a good film? No, I do not. To be honest, if I were to rank the X-Men films, this would probably be either the last or second to last in the list. That being said, Dark Phoenix still has great character moments and some good action, but overall production issues as well as a first time director leading the helm shows greatly.
Dark Phoenix is in a rough spot. It’s part of a franchise that is going to reach 20 years old next year, and is also the only ongoing franchise of Marvel based characters not in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spider-Man was the same until the Sony Disney deal in 2015 which allowed Spider-Man into the MCU. To make it worse, Disney recently purchased 20th Century Fox and all of its franchises, including the X-Men and Fantastic Four, and so fans are eagerly awaiting for the mutants to come home and join the Marvel Universe. So right off the bat, this puts the movie in a not so great place with many not even giving it much attention. The film itself went under many reshoots and an entire third act was changed as it was too similar to another film that came out a earlier in the year. Many believe that film to be Captain Marvel.
Dark Phoenix takes place in the 1990s, in which the X-Men are sent on a mission in space to help a group of astronauts after their ship has malfunctioned. While the rescue is underway a storm of energy passes through while Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) help the final astronaut get off the ship. She then gets struck by the energy and absorbs it knocking her out. After getting her back to the rest of the team, Jean wakes up and everyone is surprised but delighted that she is alive. Once back at Professor Xavier’s (James McAvoy) Mansion, she gets checked up by Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and all seems well. However little by little she notices something is off and becomes unstable, hurting people along the way. It is up to the X-Men to help Jean and stop her before she does something she will regret.
The plot itself is very similar to another X-Men film which released in 2006, X-Men The Last Stand, in which the Dark Phoenix also appeared along with another story involving a cure for mutants. This film was also written by Simon Kinberg, and so Dark Phoenix is the second attempt by the same writer to do the Phoenix Saga story from the comics. I mentioned earlier that the film has good character moments, and this is true. Professor Xavier, once again played by James McAvoy is brilliant as always, and his interactions with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) are solid. Both McAvoy and Fassbender have played these characters over four films and it shows, they both get the characters and understand them well. While Jennifer Lawrence did great in her first appearance in X-Men First Class (2011) her success in the film industry appeared to get to her as in later films it seemed as she was not giving it her all in her performances. Since this is her final appearance for many reasons, she seemed to actually want to be there this time around, and did very well. As for the rest of the cast, it feels like they were just starting to grasp their characters, Cyclops (Ty Sheridan) Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) all show potential and could have gone on to do more. I do feel bad that they will never make those characters their own and are overshadowed by the original trilogy cast, but I do enjoy what they bring to the table.
While there are a few actions scenes, as the film is driven by character moments first and foremost, they are lackluster compared to previous films. The 3rd act train sequence is easily the best action in the film, and while the other action sequences were fun, they did not surpass anything we have seen in an X-Men film. Even the Quicksilver (Evan Peters) scene is cut drastically short compared to his fantastic scenes from the previous films. The music as well was very forgettable. I missed the X-Men theme from John Ottman, and was hoping to hear it one last time. Hans Zimmer, who is an amazing composer, just didn’t cut it this time around. It’s not his fault, as with most of the production it just didn’t seem inspired. Hans at once point stated he wanted to retire from scoring superhero films as it was getting harder to come with something fresh. It kinda shows.
As for the way the film is shot, Simon Kinberg tried his best. The man has written other X-Men films, and they were great, however writing and directing are two different tasks. Everything is just shot very bland. There’s no style or confidence in any of the shots. It’s a little hard to bash the man, this is first movie he’s directed ever. And for that I applaud him. He could have quit at any time or convinced Fox that they needed someone else, but he took the job and did what he could. I do like that the cast had confidence in him, many stating they would not return unless he directed, so I like that everyone was in it together. I have much respect for him, as after the film released and was asked about the box office failure, he put the blame on himself. That’s is rare in this time, as most directors would blame others or studio interference before themselves.
Dark Phoenix was not a good film. It felt rushed even though it had plenty of time to stretch out its story. It feels uninspired, even though most of the cast and director liked the characters and each other. The first 20 or so minutes of the movie feel like it’s going to be very good, and then it starts slowly going downhill. It pains me to say as I have followed this franchise since it’s inception. I remember watching X-Men (2000) when I was 10 years old, and thinking how cool it was. While there were bumps along the way, the franchise has found a lot of success. Like many others out there we are excited to have our mutants join the rest of the Marvel characters in the future. This was supposed to be a good sendoff to a franchise that, without it, we would not even have an MCU. Everyone wanted to hate the movie from the beginning. I won’t lie, I was one of the many that wasn’t looking forward to it, but in the back of my mind hoped something good would come from it. While it had those character moments it wasn’t enough to make this film a proper send off to the X-Men franchise, if anything it setup another movie that should have been the final sendoff, but we will never see that film, and so it’s an empty goodbye. The era of the X-Men that started the current wave of the comic book movie craze is now over, and we await future installments where they will appear with the rest of the Marvel family.