Dark Phoenix, the last entry in the Fox X-Men film series, hits theaters this weekend. It’s not as bad as you’ve heard, but it isn’t without its own challenges either.
You’ve probably heard me say a thousand times how much I am not a fan of comic book films and that I grew up on similarly themed films as a child. In 2000, I didn’t know much better and Bryan Singer’s X-Men came along. I found its themes resonated with me and I figured that 20th Century Fox was on to something, so I tagged along for the ride.
Twenty years later, the fruits of the series have come to a rebooted end with Simon Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix. The series has had its share of ups and downs, but the reboot with X-Men First Class was what the franchise needed.
Interestingly, the rebooted portion of the film series retconned the end of the original trilogy, X-Men: The Last Stand and Dark Phoenix suffers the same fate as that loathsome film. Though I can admit that Dark Phoenix is not as bad as The Last Stand was.
Fortunately, Dark Phoenix doesn’t spend much time shifting between time as previous entries have. The film plays a lot like Shazam! in its story structure as we see a young Jean Grey in 1975 just before a car accident that kills her parents. This brings her to the attention of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), who helps her to realize that she is not an outsider. The remainder of the story flashes forward to 1992 where a shuttle disaster strands the crew. The only hope for their safe return is the X-Men.
Dark Phoenix features the return of Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Evan Peters. Each has a distinctive role in this story and everyone gets a moment in the spotlight.
The Dark Phoenix story written by Kinberg is this film’s biggest challenge because in a narrative sense, it flows; just not very well. On the mission to recover the crew of the shuttle, the X-Men encounter the clichéd storm in space that ultimately consumes Jen Grey (Sophie Turner). Knowing that she’s changed, the crew return to earth. Beast (Hoult) has feelings for Jean, and the story spends some time developing those feelings. So too does Cyclops (Tye Sheridan).
Jean’s mutation draws out some really frustrating story turns as her situation turns everyone else against Xavier. Not understanding her affliction, she seeks out Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who is in seclusion.
As Jean Grey/Phoenix searches to better understand what is happening to her, a shape-shifting race known as the D’Bari arrive on earth. Vuk, played by Jessica Chastain, seeks the entity contained within Jean for herself and their race. When Vuk and Jean/Phoenix come together, Kinberg’s exposition gets very murky and far too heavy-handed for this type of story.
Dark Phoenix‘s third act sees the X-Men trying to save Phoenix from Vuk’s clutches. There are some strong action sequences and the effects aren’t too overly cheesy, but the action feels contrite. In a sense, there is nowhere for the series to go after this point. Disney has no interest in pursuing this cast or these adventures.
In fact, Dark Phoenix ends on a very mixed note. If the series were to continue, it would be interesting to see where they take it, considering what happens to the characters.
Dark Phoenix offers a conflicted message which is quagmired in its own machinations. It never manages to reach the levels of the earlier entries in the series, original or rebooted. It is better than The Last Stand. But not by much.
Dark Phoenix is rated PG-13 and is now in theaters.