A follow up to 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, despite having no callbacks to that film at all, Dark Phoenix loosely follows Jean Grey, played by Sophie Turner fresh off of Game of Thrones, as she is infected by the Phoenix Force and lays waste to the other characters in the film. While doing a convincing job with the roles all of the actors were given, what they were given is not so much a story or movie, but a series of scenes told in order with no story binding them. This is the recorded events of Grey’s experience with the Phoenix Force, and nothing more.
As this is the last of the mainline First Class series of X-Men films, and possibly the last Fox X-Men film in general as The New Mutants had been pushed back yet again to April 2020 and the Gambit movie was canceled, what we got was thoroughly disappointing. It not only failed to bring the series either to a close or into the next phase now that Marvel Studios owns them. Instead of doing that, it introduces a new alien race that are almost non-important to the film at all. Dark Phoenix marks nearly 20 years since the first film was released, and nothing about the film relates to the larger universe of the series. It doesn’t even reference the previous film, other than the team from the last film is roughly that of this new one.
As previously mentioned, the only shining light from this movie is the acting of the characters that get any screen time at all. Sophie Turner plays Jean Grey great with what limited characterization she receives, as does James McAvoy’s (Glass, Wanted) Xavier and Michael Fassbender’s (Assassin’s Creed, Alien: Covenant) Magneto. Jessica Chastain’s (Miss Sloane, Crimson Peak) Vuk barely has anything to do in the story, and tells us the motivations of her species, to trick someone on Earth to take in the Phoenix Force, and then try to control said person to bring about a return of their planet, which was destroyed by the same entity. Does any of this matter to the story that Dark Phoenix wants to tell? No, it doesn’t. Because the movie itself doesn’t want to think about that.
Instead, the film speeds through the Phoenix Saga much like it did in the original X-Men films. Xavier uses his power to partition off parts of Grey’s power and memories in a misguided attempt to help her. Gaining the power of the Phoenix Force breaks these walls, and thus makes her aware of them existing. She flees from Xavier to Magneto’s compound, only to be turned away as her uncontrolled abilities put his home at risk, turning him against her as well.
We’ve seen this before, during X-Men: The Last Stand, and while I am never one to say that something can’t be rebooted or rehashed, this version doesn’t do anything new with the story. I wish there was a new take on it, that the strange side plot between Mystique and Xavier, about the former calling the latter out on using the X-Men to grow his own ego, rather than what’s better for the group, had more time to develop. I wish that there was more static between Beast and Magneto when they team up.
Unless you care more about completing the series than you do about the actual quality of the film, there is not a lot of reason to go see this film. There is not enough good to overwhelm or balance out the bad, and with movies costing as much as they do, even if you do want to be a completionist about the series, you could easily wait until the film is on streaming or on DVD.
Dark Phoenix is open wide in theatres everywhere.
David Castro is a Puerto Rican writer from New York City. He has worked on the upcoming Undead supplement for Chill Third Edition and is working on launching a Patreon. You can find him on Twitter (@theinkedknight), on Tumblr (thedevilsyouknew), on Facebook (facebook.com/inkstainedstudios), and at davidrcastro.com.