Dark Phoenix is the swan song of the Fox X-Men film franchise. It attempts to adapt Chris Claremont’s famous Dark Phoneix comic run which tells the story of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) gaining the mysterious power of the Phoenix Force and going a little bit insane in the process. Adapting a beloved comic book storyline is never easy and since this franchise has already tried and completely failed to adapt Dark Phoenix with X-Men: The Last Stand I was skeptical that they could do a better job in this film and after watching this film I can say that I was right to feel that way.
The Phoenix Saga, in the comics, works well because they spent years developing the story and characters. You feel for Jean when she becomes possessed by the Pheonix Force because you’ve known Jean for years. However, in the film, there is none of that context. This interpretation of Jean was only previously seen in X-Men: Apocalypse, and she didn’t get a whole lot of character development in that film. We don’t know really her and this story requires that you care about Jean Grey. But audiences don’t, so it completely falls apart.
Changing elements for a comic book adaptation is nothing new. In fact, the MCU has been doing it for years. Captain America: Civil War movie is nothing like the Civil War comic event and that’s not a bad thing. The problem is that this is a bad adaptation of Dark Phoenix. The movie is really boring and confusing.
It constantly throws new elements at you and expects you to keep up with its nonsense plot. It establishes that certain characters care deeply about each other, despite there being barely any interactions between those characters. For all this movie talks about the X-Men being family, you never really see it, so much so that you feel like you’ve missed a movie between Apocolypse and Dark Pheonix.
The plot makes no sense whatsoever. The main focus is Jean’s struggle to control the Phienox Force and Jessica Chastain’s crew trying to use her to control it for themselves. I say Jessica Chastain’s crew because I don’t think her character’s name was mentioned once throughout the film. So for all the people hoping that she as Lilandra Of The Shi’ar Empire, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I never fully grasped what her plan was and this film just doesn’t dedicate enough time to her character to have anything resembling an arc.
The most important part of any X-Men movie is the X-Men themselves and I am amazed at how this franchise managed to terribly portray all the best X-Men up until the very end. None of the famous characters have any personality whatsoever except for Jean, whose only character trait is that she’s confused and scared about what’s happening to her. Professor X comes across in this film as a manipulative sociopath. And while Professor X has always had a darker side in comics, this movie fully leans into it, having him do something to Jean that I find inexcusable.
The cast does the best they can with what they’re given, with Sophie Turner being the best thing in this movie. She really captures Jean’s turbulent emotions and she had a really convincing physicality when using her telekinetic powers. Unfortunately, everyone else didn’t really have anything to do. I think in a different film Alexandra Shipp would be a great Storm, but unfortunately, like Halle Berry, neither film she’s been in gave her the chance to prove it.
The action set pieces in this film are also pretty bad. There are a couple of theoretically cool fights, but it is muddled by the shaky camera and jump cuts so viewers can’t really see any of them. Additionally, none of the X-men use their powers except near the end and even then it was pretty underwhelming, to say the least. Considering that this movie cost $200 million to make, I was disappointed to see that the effects didn’t look any better than they in the first X-Men film. There were some good visuals here, like when was Jean using the power of The Phoenix Force, but the camera cuts away before you can really process what’s going on.
I am feeling very conflicted about Dark Phoenix because, on the one hand, this film is a disaster from start to finish and a pretty pitiful end to the Fox X-Men Saga. However, despite all of its issues, I enjoyed this movie. I do not understand why I enjoyed this movie, but maybe after all of the large event comic book movies lately it was refreshing to see something with a much smaller scope.
However, I think the more likely answer is that I just love the X-Men so much that even when they are in an awful movie I can still enjoy myself. I can’t in good conscience recommend that anyone spend their hard earned money to go see this film in theaters, but if you are a die-hard X-Men fan like me you might find that it’s a surprisingly fun ride.
The action set pieces in this film are also pretty bad. There are a couple of theoretically cool fights, but it is muddled by the shaky camera and jump cuts so viewers can’t really see any of them. Additionally, none of the X-men use their powers except near the end and even then it was pretty underwhelming, to say the least.