I will never understand why the decision makers at Fox can’t seem to understand what the Phoenix Force is in their various X-Men films. They’ve now had two opportunities to tell the Dark Phoenix story — arguably the greatest X-Men story ever, and each time, they’ve relegated it to one film. The producers ignored all the intricacies that Chris Claremont and John Byrne wove into the character and her struggles, and left this magnificent, layered creation to serve as the villain of the week.
The newest — and last — X-Men film for 20th Century Fox, Dark Phoenix, tells the story a little better than 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, but this story deserves a trilogy in and of itself, and not less than two hours to get it right. So, by default, and once again, they get it wrong.
Fans thought that Fox had righted the ship when they reset the timeline with X-Men: Days of Future Past. That film served as a way to fix the mistakes of the first trilogy of films largely led by Bryan Singer, and finally present true X-Men villains for the team to fight.
The newer films gave us Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and the Hellfire Club, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) and his Sentinels, and even Apocalypse (Oscar Issac), but when it came time to do Phoenix and later, Dark Phoenix, the momentum had run dry, and fans were growing tired of the mutants.
That’s not to mention that Fox was selling off its movie division, and Disney was waiting with open arms, promising a reunion of all the Marvel characters under one roof (Spider-Man and the Hulk, which are still owned by Sony and Universal, respectively, notwithstanding). All of this created a perfect storm for writer/director Simon Kinberg to bring another version of Jean Grey/Phoenix (Sofie Turner) to the screen to serve as the X-Men’s greatest and last battle for Fox.
Dark Phoenix opens in 1975 as we see a young Jean Grey manifest her powers in a car ride with her parents that ends in tragedy. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) sweeps in to take the young girl in to train her, and she agrees. Flash to 1992 with the X-Men being called upon by the U.S. president to save the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavor, who encountered a solar flare shortly after takeoff. Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) doesn’t think the “X-jet” can make it, but Charles insists, arguing that this is the path to what they’ve always wanted: legitimacy.
The team uses the modified Blackbird to enter orbit and they work together as a unit to save the crew one by one. Jean is left on the shuttle as the flare encroaches and she absorbs the entirety of the flare. Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) thinks his love is dead and as the X-Men mourn the loss of of one of their own, Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) bamfs to collect her body, only to find her still alive. They bring her back to Earth, and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) is angry as Xavier for putting their lives at risk.
Jean begins to recover and Hank can find no residual damage in his examination. But Jean is marked with a strange new power and it begins to take over and twist her, damaging the X-Men in irreparable ways.
Jessica Chastain also stars as Vuk, a member of the D’bari alien race who comes to Earth to take the Phoenix force for themselves to eradicate all life on the planet so the remains of her race can move in. All of this leads to a race to find Jean and a battle is fought for her soul, with casualties on all sides.
Dark Phoenix veers away from the classic comics story, but not as much as The Last Stand. Certain notes are still present, and Kinberg did his best to keep the story moving. Unfortunately, the film is boring in spots, especially after such a great classic X-Men-like opening scene with the rescue mission. By the end, the audience just wants it to end and end it does. The film and the series in the hands of Fox.
Dark Phoenix is not an awful movie, it just doesn’t feel like the “last chapter” that it is marketed as. There is no definitive conclusion, and there is even room for more stories in the series if Disney wanted to go that route. They don’t, and that’s fine too. It’s time for these characters and stories to be in the right hands — looking at you, Kevin Feige — so the Marvel mutants can come home where they belong. If that’s the best thing to come from this film, I’ll take it.
Dark Phoenix is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now.
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