It’s very interesting to see how 2019 is shaping the landscape of many superhero universes. DC had its second hit in a row with ‘Shazam!’, and is building up a separated yet connected universe. The Marvel Cinematic Universe ended its first set of phases with ‘Avengers: Endgame’, and broke many records (and hearts) in the process. And now, the X-Men saga that started nearly two decades ago has come to an end with ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’. But sadly, while it does do some things really well, it didn’t take the time to show off other things. Thus making this ending to the saga very bittersweet.
For the record. I really liked First Class, and Days Of Future Past was a great way to tie the two sagas together. Apocalypse was honestly the best of the trilogy in my opinion (and yes, I know many didn’t like it, but I honestly did). So it honestly makes me a little sad that Dark Phoenix didn’t end as strongly as I would’ve hoped.
Not that the beginning of the film didn’t start out great, it honestly really did. It fulfilled on the promise that the end of Apocalypse gave with the X-Men truly being born. Seeing Mystique as the field commander was honestly really cool as she gave out orders to try and save a shuttle and its crew from certain death. Of course, the “certain death” was the Phoenix Force, and when Jean has to absorb it to save everyone, and we all know that this is not a good thing…
The problem with the previous attempt at the Dark Phoenix Saga (in the maligned The Last Stand movie) was that they didn’t spend enough time on Jean. Thankfully, part of that problem is solved in Dark Phoenix. She is indeed the focal point of all the things that happen, both good and bad. And the effects of her breaking mentally and physically is well-handled for the most part.
Unlike in The Last Stand, the effect isn’t instantaneous, it built up over time, and it made it all the more devastating and tragic when certain things happen. Such as the highly-publicized death of Mystique. or when a party (featuring Dazzler!!!) goes from “time of our life” to “QUIET!!!!” in a matter of seconds.
Seeing Jean struggle is great, and her powers causing all sorts of problems for everyone in both big and small pictures lead to some really great scenes.
For example, Mystique sees Charles Xavier changing for the worse via the new fame the X-Men are getting because of their more public hero nature. He feels that this is a good thing because the Mutant race is being trusted, but she sees it as being reckless and putting everyone in danger. And when she dies, he doubles down on his believes, which puts him at odds with Beast, who gives a very powerful portrayal in this film (and should’ve been Batman…).
Then there’s Scott, who was criminally underused in the original films, and got a shot at redemption in Apocalypse and here. Though more subtle than I’d hoped at times, Tye Sheridan’s portrayal of Scott is great. He truly loves Jean, and they show that relationship in spades in this film. And like the Cyclops I know from the comics, his love and commitment to her is absolute. He would do anything for her, even defend her when others are saying otherwise.
Storm, was a surprising hit in this movie, as she has grown from her more mute performance in Apocalypse, and showing that she indeed has the instincts to become the leader that the X-Men will need in the future. Her bond with Scott (a plutonic bond mind you) was also really forged here, and it was nice.
And of course, there’s Magneto, who as always steals the show. Michael Fassbender as Magneto in each film leading up to this has been legendary, and this time is no different. This “Genosha version” of him is a more weathered and experienced man. But when it comes to the loss of Mystique, he’s not afraid to revert to old habits before being pushed back to his better half.
Before I get to the negatives, I want to compliment the VFX for the film. There were some really great shots in there, especially involving Nightcrawler and his teleportation, and a certain street and train battle that was high on impact and style.
The real problems with Dark Phoenix are two-fold. First off, the villains. The enemies of this film are basically another version of the Skrulls. They’re shapeshifters, but they have their own special powers in addition to them. While I liked that they (like many races in the X-Men comics) were trying to find and capture the Phoenix Force for themselves so that they can harness its power…they honestly come off as lame and dry. Jessica Chastain does her best with her part, but it’s just not enough. Not to mention, the running that they do is the most over-the-top thing I’ve ever seen. And I watched Ant-Man and the Wasp.
The second problem here is that the film honestly is really short. It’s less than two hours long, and before I knew it, we were in the final battle. Things start off slowly to build up tension, but then they rocket along until BOOM we’re done, Jean’s dead, we get another “future perfect” scene (a reference to Days of Future Past) and then a touching ending with Charles and Magneto and a “tease” that Jean is still alive.
Now yes, I know that in the comics, Jean dies, and she died in The Last Stand too. But the jump from “I’m going to kill you all” to “I’m going to save my family” felt a little too rushed. The way they did it was great, but the speed of it all was bad. Especially since the final battle was fueled by humanity instead of the aliens.
So is Dark Phoenix a bad film? To me? No, it’s not. It has a lot of heart and asked some really tough questions. Including ones about what we do when our friends are the ones hurting others. But the villains and the pace hindered this film greatly. As did the reshoots and constant delays. It’s not the worst X-Men film ever, but it’s also not as great as the previous three films in the “First Class Saga”.
Dark Phoenix Review
The end of the X-Men saga ends in somewhat lukewarm fashion. Dark Phoenix does do better than The Last Stand, but its rushed ending feels as though things behind the scenes made things go a different way.