I’m beginning to believe that the only thing harder than adapting the classic X-Men: Dark Phoenix Saga is writing a review of the adaptation. Let’s get to it then…
First things first: Is it better than X-Men: The Last Stand? Oh, god yes. By a country mile, for sure. Is it the best X-Men movie ever? Not even close!
Dark Phoenix asks a lot of the audience and it kinda sorta gets you to go along with it. There’s the late period addition of aliens to the X-Men film cannon which definitely comes out of left-field as they land on earth, take human form, and after a line of expository dialog they’re on the hunt for Jean Grey. Jessica Chastain’s character is only called by name once and you’ll spend the rest of the film asking “Who the Vuk is she supposed to be?”
Sophie Turner is given the herculean task of fleshing out the character of Jean Grey in her second outing since X-Men: Apocalypse introduced her and didn’t have her do much else except set up the next movie. I’m happy to say that she sticks the landing, making the most of the little she’s given to work with.
The rest of the X-crew don’t write fare as well. Storm, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Quicksilver? They sure are characters that are in the film. They’re all given their own action set pieces that showcase their abilities but they aren’t given a chance to evolve beyond the faint sketches of characters that they are. At least we get to see film versions of my personal favourite Frank Quitely-inspired X-Men uniforms.
The movie didn’t quite know what to do with Quicksilver, since this time they didn’t have a slow-motion/super speed sequence set to a classic pop hit of the time period for him to shine in. He essentially runs full-tilt into a wall, gets carted off the X-jet in a stretcher, and isn’t seen again until the final moments of the movie. The plot thread of him being Magneto’s long-lost son also goes unfulfilled, which is disappointing on a couple of levels. It would have been a nice button on Michael Fassbender’s character arc, giving him some semblance of family after perpetually losing his for the last four movies.
Jennifer Lawrence dazzles in a contractually obligated performance as Mystique. It’s not much of a spoiler that Mystique dies literally minutes into the film since it was included in most of the trailers. She shows up, makes a few points, collects her check and is on her merry Marvel mutant way. It was always a curious addition to the X-Men movie mythos that Mystique was given prominence to match Lawrence’s rising star after X-Men: First Class, and what else was Fox supposed to do with a popular actor they had locked down for a multi-picture deal? At least with this outing she wasn’t on screen long enough to appear as actively bored as she was during X-Men: Apocalypse.
Perhaps the biggest aspect of the suspension of disbelief is that we’re supposed to buy that both Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are just eight years away from turning into Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart, respectively (this movie is set in 1992 and the first X-Men was in 2000). Dark Phoenix carries on the tradition, started with X-Men: Days of Future Past of having every subsequent movie take place ten years after the last one. Magneto and Professor X are looking pretty spry for guys that are supposed to be in their 60’s and 70’s. The ten year time jumps don’t really add much to the overall setting of each movie post-Days of Future Past and even that was relegated to, “Look bellbottoms! Nixon!”
Dark Phoenix really tries to adapt the unwieldy space opera saga on which it’s based and it does the best it can with what it has. Unlike Avengers: Endgame, it doesn’t have the benefit of 20+ movies of buildup and there’s limited time spent with each character so the audience isn’t as invested in them as they could be.
So, this is it the end of the Fox X-Men era. Well, except for New Mutants which is still totally happening WHO TOLD YOU IT ISN’T, HUH? There isn’t really much finality about this outing, though; mostly just wasted potential.