I have no problems being wrong. Sometimes, as in the case of Dark Phoenix, I can be ecstatic about it.
I walked into the theatre Friday night thinking I was going to see a horrible film that sends the Fox iteration of the X-Men movies off with a serious whimper. Now, from a financial standpoint, that’s exactly what’s happening this weekend, as the 12th film in the franchise is set to debut with an abysmal $30-something million, the worst showing ever for an X-Men film. From a critical standpoint, things are just as bad, with the Dark Phoniex currently sitting at just 22% at Rotten Tomatoes.
But from a “me” perspective, I can honestly tell you that I throughly enjoyed Dark Phoenix, and I didn’t think that I would.
The story, which features the corruption of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), as she becomes the most powerful mutant on the planet, is based on the classic 1980 Uncanny X-Men story written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. The tale of Jean going bad was already poorly adapted in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, shoehorned into a busy script that eschewed character development for loads and loads of action (a decision that this fan had no problems with back in the day, even when it didn’t work particularly well; I liked the mutant action, what can I tell you?) This time out, Jean is the complete focus of the film, as her changes and their repercussions on her teammates play out violently and tragically.
As someone who thought X-Men: Apocalypse was an absolutely travesty, thanks in no small part to what I thought was a wooden performance by Sophie Turner in her debut as Jean Grey, I was significantly impressed with Turner’s work in Dark Phoenix. In my opinion, it’s her movie to carry and she does an outstanding job, beautifully veering from vulnerable to vengeful when needed.
Speaking of performances, where it seems a lot of criticisms of Dark Phoenix are directed at lazy or unengaged actors, I honestly didn’t see it. You’ve got a solid cast (Jennifer Lawrence, James MacAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult) stepping into roles they’ve played for nearly a decade, and delivering the goods. I didn’t find fault with any of them.
Are there faults in Dark Phoenix? Absolutely. While the scenes between Jean and her boyfriend Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) are fine, their romance only blossomed offscreen, so their closeness is more implied rather than observed, and it’s that relationship that was key to the original comic book story. Conflict between humans and mutants, along with mutant and mutant, also escalates far too quickly, and that comes from a script that tries to pack in too much into a two-hour film. There are also some plot holes that defied explanation, most of them revolving around Jessica Chastain’s Vuk.
Therein lies the biggest probables with Dark Phoenix, in this iteration, and the previous take in X-Men: The Last Stand. Jean Grey’s story is big. Epic. In a world of franchises, Dark Phoenix certainly merited multiple films to deliver the gravitas adaptation it deserves. Think about it – nearly forty years later, and that tale is STILL the X-Men story that all others are measured by. To quote a great Marvel idiom….WHAT IF Fox had avoided that crappy Apocalypse film that damaged the post-Days of Future Past X-Men love and given us The Phoenix Saga Part 1?
But that’s all armchair quarterbacking, and now, a completely moot point. Disney now owns Fox, and with Dark Phoenix, the X-Men franchise as we know it has come to an end. Thankfully though, at least for me, it does so in a way that gave me a film that I dreaded seeing and wound up enjoying.