Though it’s not a perfect film, it far exceeds expectations and gives the X-Men Beginnings saga the sendoff it deserves. Kinberg’s Dark Phoenix rises from the ashes of a frequently lousy franchise.
Written & Directed by Simon Kinberg
Starring Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, and Jessica Chastain
Rated PG-13, for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language
Released June 7, 2019
“You’re always sorry, Charles… and there’s always a speech… but nobody cares anymore.”
Sometimes walking into a movie with no context is the best way to experience it. You don’t watch the trailer; you don’t read the reviews; you don’t ask the opinions of friends.
That’s not how I walked into Dark Phoenix.
About a month or so ahead of its release, I launched myself into a full-scale X-Men marathon. I wanted to be caught up. I wanted to get my head into the universe. I attempted to watch them in the chronological order of events that happened in the films, but I deeply regret this. I should’ve just watched them in order by release date. This franchise has more glaring plot holes and inconsistencies than any other I can think of. It’s like each one is paradoxically a stand-alone film that you can’t watch without seeing the others. The James Bond franchise does this in a way. Each story is different. Sometimes events or characters from prior movies are important, sometimes they’re ignored. The James Bond and X-Men franchises are similar for me in a way. I loved them as a kid, but looking back as an adult, they’ve lost their luster. Each franchise only delivers one genuinely amazing entry. For James Bond, it’s Skyfall (2012); for X-Men, it’s Logan (2017).
My month-long, X-Men marathon refreshed my memory and caught me up on a couple of the entries I’d missed. Unfortunately, it reminded me that I had outgrown the series, and that realization was raining on my parade. When I saw the Dark Phoenix teaser many months ago, I was excited for it. I genuinely couldn’t wait. The past year or so had shown me the most disappointing films I’d ever seen. Latley, when I go to the movies, whatever I see is just plain bad, or is brutally disappointing. I was so stoked for Jordan Peele’s Us (2019) but left the theater frustrated and dissatisfied. Dark Phoenix was the only thing on my radar. I’m not even that excited for Star Wars- Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
My new found realization, that I didn’t care for the X-Men franchise as much as I thought I did, got me down. The film premiered on June 4th and the reviews came pouring in… and they were bad. I saw the film on Thursday before the wide-release, and as of then, it was holding a 22% on Rotten Tomatoes®- the worst score of the whole franchise.
It was a worse score even than that of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).
The score shook my confidence, but I knew my taste didn’t always align with the majority of critics. After all, X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) scored very low and it was my favorite in the series after Logan.
All of the signs coming my way weren’t giving me much hope. I wanted to have a good experience, so I focused on the positives. I was going to be seeing Dark Phoenix on the largest IMAX screen in Texas. I love IMAX. It’s the best way to watch movies like this- the grandiosity, the sound, the spectacle. It’s very immersive. I figured that even if the movie was bad, I would try to have a good time just being absorbed.
In the days preceding the release, my social media feed started pushing press junket interviews and promotional videos for the film. I unknowingly watched the Jimmy Kimmel interview from earlier in the week where he comes right out spoils the death of a major character. Why did they even air that? There’s even a trailer that spoils the same moment. I walked into the theater with my head hung low, glad that the movie’s running time was under two hours. “Let’s get it over with,” I thought.
Well, for some reason, I loved it.
Dark Phoenix gives us the best action and the most emotion a PG-13 X-Men film has yet to give. I wish it were longer. I’m hoping for a extended cut when it’s released on Blu-ray. If I were forced to say negatives about it, I’d say that it could have been darker and it had somewhat of a non-ending. They played it safe, for sure. I’m not complaining, though. It was better than I expected and I genuinely had fun watching it.
I was nine years old when Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) came out. I probably didn’t see it until it was out on video, maybe a couple of years later. I liked it; I got into the original trilogy. I would listen to the Michael Kamen score on my Sony® Walkman in the car. I lost interest in the series after X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) but returned back to it after an X-Men: Days of Future Past/The Other Woman (2014) double-feature at America’s second oldest drive-in. The main draw to the franchise is Hugh Jackman. His on-screen charisma makes watching anything he’s in enjoyable, and while he was absent from Dark Phoenix, we got the next best thing- Michael Fassbender.
Say what you will about the script and the acting, but you can’t deny the performances of Fassbender and McAvoy. I’m mainly referring to their adaptations of the characters they play. Their Erik Lehnsherr, and Charles Xavier, respectively, are spot-on with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart’s, and have been increasingly throughout the franchise.
I also have to tip my hat to this cavalier Charles Xavier we’ve never seen before. Dark Phoenix shows us an ego-boosted Professor X. He’s a celebrity. He has his own phone line to the President. He claims he’s playing a role which keeps the war between humans and homo superiors at bay, but Raven can’t help but think that he likes his new status, and is using the others’ powers for his own benefit. Notice, too, how often we see him with a bottle in his hand.
Per X-Men fashion, Dark Phoenix ignores many plot points set up by previous films. It casts aside the Jean Grey origin story presented in The Last Stand and gives us a brand new one. I could write a book detailing every inconsistency, so let’s just look at how DOFP and Apocalypse align with this new one. In DOFP, Logan wakes up in 2023 to find that the team was able to rewrite history and save the mutants. Charles is running the school, and Jean and Scott are together- alive and well. The events of Dark Phoenix imply that thirty years earlier, Charles retires, Hank takes over the school, and Jean is in phoenix form flying above the earth. I suppose it’s possible that Charles and Jean could have returned over that thirty-year period, but it’s not really implied.
At the end of Apocalypse, Jean helps destroy the villain by tapping into her previously restrained phoenix powers. That was in 1983. Dark Phoenix takes place almost ten years later, yet the phoenix stayed dormant all that time? And Moira isn’t in the picture? Certainly she would’ve been involved in the relationship with Charles and President George H.W. Bush. And did Peter ever tell Erik that he was his son? The two don’t even share the screen in Dark Phoenix. What about the post-credit scene from Apocalypse? Does Wolverine kill Stryker? Does Logan take place in the alternate timeline after all? Tightening this kind of stuff up really would have elevated the series, but when there are so many writers and directors trying to cover lots of source material and fix the mistakes of their predecessors, it’s bound to get messy. The disorganization lead to things like the Caliban in Apocalypse, and the dramatically different Caliban in Logan, set 46 years later.
The messiest moment in the film comes during Jean and Erik’s second fight. Jean appears to impale Erik with the shards of his helmet before sending him through the second story window. When he hits the street, and is later dragged away by the “MCU” (the most obvious easter egg of all time), he appears to be dead. Suddenly, on the train, he’s sitting upright with just a few cuts and bruises. Kinberg stated that the third act of the film was completely reshot, in part due to bad screen tests. Rumor has it, the original ending was similar to that of the Captain Marvel (2019) finale. I’m curious to know if he intended to kill off Magneto, but then changed his mind. It’s confusing.
Once you accept the inconsistencies, ignore the minutiae and overlook the bits of juvenile dialogue, Dark Phoenix is really fun.
The overall theme of the X-Men stories is just as relevant today as it was at their conception. The stories explore the many facets of bigotry- its impact, and how to stand up to it. Xenophobia is always the real antagonist.
It’s hard to be a PG-13-rated action movie existing in the same world as the Mission: Impossible or The Fast and the Furious franchises. The bar has been set very high. While Dark Phoenix’s action doesn’t quite reach the caliber of Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018) or even Furious 7 (2015), it makes up for it with darkness and vehemence. The action sequences are powerful. At times, they’re moving.
The emotional performances of Nicholas Hoult, Michael Fassbender, Tye Sheridan, and even Kodi Smit-McPhee elevate the film to be amongst the best in the series. We see Kurt really let loose in this one. Like I said, it doesn’t beat Logan, but the movies aren’t really even that comparable.
See this movie; ignore the critics.
See it in IMAX and let it in.
It’s the most poignant piece from this specific cast and crew.
Movie-goers these days thrive off of critical reception, and I think that this will hurt the film. Rotten Tomatoes® has become a household name. Gone are the days where the only criticism you’d hear was “Peter Travers raves, ‘the best movie of the year,’” in a TV Spot.
Comic book superhero movies have taken center stage, and don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. I have to believe they exist to sell action figures, backpacks and Halloween costumes. They take Hollywood heavyweights, dress them in latex and face-paint and swing them around on harnesses in front of green screens. Other than a few of the X-Men films, the only one I enjoy is Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002). Avengers: Endgame (2019) just broke numerous box-office records, but at the end of the day, I would rather watch Origins than anything from the MCU.