Now, we all know that the X-Men film franchise has already tried their hand at one of the greatest storylines in the X-Men comic books with the film most of us would like to forget, X-Men: The Last Stand. Now, with Dark Phoenix, the franchise has the chance to correct some of the mistakes of the past and introduce a new group of fans (and returning ones) to another take on the classic story. However, all the audience gets is much of the same from the 2006 film.
The film opens with a young Jean Grey (Summer Fontana) and the moment that she first discovers her mutation. Of course, this ends with disastrous results as she accidentally puts her mother to sleep at the wheel, causing the Grey family’s car to be hit when their vehicle swerves into oncoming traffic. Jean Grey’s early life is clearly not a pleasant one and when Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) brings her to his home and school for the gifted, Jean finds herself a new family to call her own. Believing that she’s lost everything and that she isn’t truly special, it’s touching to see her embrace her individuality and make a life with her fellow students, some of whom will make up the team known as the X-Men.
In Dark Phoenix we have the X-Men as a solidified team and they actually have a direct line with the president. So, when a rocket ship in space loses control of its communication devices and ship, the X-Men are called in to save the day. Raven a.k.a. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has some reservations and when Jean (Sophie Turner) points this out, Raven plays it off and tells the young team that their safety is of the utmost importance, and if anything too dangerous happens, she will be the first one to pull them out. With Raven and Hank (Nicholas Hoult) in charge, Jean, Scott (Tye Sheridan), Peter (Evan Peters), Ororo (Alexandra Shipp) and Kurt (Kodi Smit-McPhee) head out into space to rescue the space crew from their malfunctioning ship. Of course, in true dramatic fashion, the routine rescue ends up being unhinged by what the team are told are potential solar flares. But these solar flares are far from that, in fact within the large mass of light, fire and chaos is the Phoenix Force.
As Jean is still on the ship, and the entity is headed right toward her, she is the first to come into contact with it. What should have killed the young mutant somehow doesn’t; much to the shock of the rest of the X-Men. At some point in all this mania surrounding what happened to Jean while she was in space, what was happening to her powers now and what exactly those not so real solar flares were, enter the villainous Vuk (Jessica Chastain). Seeking out the Phoenix Force and its power, she serves to become a threat to any of those who are in any way affiliated with Jean. Little does Vuk know that Jean is already a danger to many of her loved ones and everyone else already.
With Simon Kinberg at the helm of this film, I will stay that it is an upgrade from X-men: The Last Stand. What Dark Phoenix did well was focus mostly on the turmoil that Jean Grey has within herself both before and after she is imbued with the Phoenix Force. The change she has from light to dark is not as quick, and she fights against it as much as she can before ultimately admitting that the power ‘feels good.’ One of the best scenes in the film that occurs with this internal fight is yet another scene in a residential area where Jean loses control as the darkness consumes her. Now, we all know what happens when the Dark Phoenix emerges – death. In this movie, that doesn’t change, and while some will be upset to see the end of this character as we know them, others will likely be glad that they’re gone (though it definitely messes up the timeline – but that isn’t new as it pertains to the X-Men movies).
The movie does some things well, mostly some of its scenes which feature two characters. In fact, some of the film’s best scenes come in the form of conversations or interactions between two people, or battles between them. This includes some standout scenes that Jean and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) share together, particularly because the duo have some great moments of a power struggle between them. Both Turner and Fassbender do a fantastic job at selling these scenes and the tension between the two mutant heavyweights is palpable. Another good scene comes in the form of Professor Xavier and Hank where we see the friends at great odds for the first time. We also get a very cool scene with Nightcrawler showing off his skills, something we haven’t gotten a true taste of since X2: X-Men United. There are also a few good scenes shared between Vuk and Jean, and let me just say that I stan these two powerful, yet messy women.
Now while the aforementioned scenes are enjoyable, this is no way makes up for the rest of the movie for being meh. I didn’t entirely dislike the film, but I certainly feel as though it could have been much better. It was much of the same, clearly recycled from its past film of the same subject matter. It has some moments that theater goers are likely to enjoy. But at the end of the day, I felt as though I was sitting through something I’ve already seen – because I had. There were ways that the story could have been changed or updated, but all we got were mostly the same visuals from the past and that’s it. The actors are better than the script gave them credit for (for the most part), and I would have enjoyed seeing a bit more action throughout the movie, not just in the film’s final act.
It’s odd because while the movie begins with a slow pace, it also seems as if many of it was rushed. We never truly get to witness any of the stakes that are truly involved and many of the moments which should have served as being impactful, just weren’t. However, despite knowing these characters in movie-form for years now, there was something so lacklustre about it and the moments that were supposed to matter, ultimately didn’t. As a huge fan of the X-Men comic books and some of the films, I felt disappointed that this is the note that the X-Men franchise (as we know it) will leave us on. However, definitely go to the theater and make your own assessment.
Dark Phoenix hits theaters on June 7, 2019.