June 5, 2019 Dark Phoenix (Movie Review)
Nearly twenty years have passed since the X-Men first graced the silver screen. That thought in mind, with the worldwide release of Dark Phoenix on June 7th, 2019, 20th Century Fox seems to be closing this chapter of the X-Men’s history and beginning to usher in a new era under the expansive Marvel cinematic universe.
Using one of the comic’s most iconic plot lines, Dark Phoenix removes itself from the over-the-top, convoluted narratives of the previous few films and shines a light on what has always been the most important aspect of the X-Men – its unforgettable characters. Directed and written by Simon Kinberg, who also produced the excellent 2017 film Logan and the previous three X-Men films, has finally taken the reins on this franchise after the ousting of Bryan Singer – a welcomed change.
Now, it is true that many fans may be skeptical of Dark Phoenix after the disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse back in 2016, but this film feels like a homecoming. You will find them in 1992, a time when mutants have finally become accepted and even adored by society.
As the X-Men are sent on a mission to save a group of doomed astronauts, a mysterious cosmic force takes over the body of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner: Game of Thrones series, Josie 2017), causing her to lose control of her telekinetic powers. Already one of the most powerful mutants in world, Jean is now at odds with the force inside her, making her the most powerful being in the galaxy. After some inevitable tragedy, the remaining X-Men are left to decide if Jean’s life is worth the possible destruction of all life on Earth—a question that pits even the strongest allies against one another.
Once again reprising their roles as Charles Xavier AKA Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr AKA Magneto are James McAvoy (Split 2016, Glass 2019) and Michael Fassbender (Shame 2011, Assassin’s Creed 2016), respectively, along with Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games 2012, Mother! 2017) as Mystique and Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies 2013, Tolkien 2019) as Beast. These four find themselves to be the last of the original cast of 2011’s X-Men: First Class, and all once again at odds with one another as the world is threatened by one of their own.
The relationship between the original characters, particularly the tenuous one between Professor X and Magneto, is the film’s backbone. That said, Dark Phoenix feeds its audience a much more character-driven narrative than previous offerings, and that alone puts it a cut above most recent X-Men films, save perhaps First Class. At times, the narrative feels a bit rushed, particularly at the start, but the tension between characters keeps the story feeling interesting and the large-scale battle sequences—because you cannot have a super hero film without a few of those—filled with enough tension to keep an audience interested. Comic book fans may find fault with Kinberg’s direction, particularly with some questionable timeline choices, but those invested in the current X-Men cinematic universe are sure to find aspects to enjoy within Dark Phoenix.
All this would not be possible without stellar performances from the cast. Turner makes an excellent Jean Grey, and she can easily hold her own among superstar actors like Lawrence, McAvoy, and Jessica Chastain, who does a killer job of playing the film’s preternatural villain. Noticeably absent is Hugh Jackman’s iconic Wolverine, who has always had a more interesting and complex relationship with Jean Grey than the bland Cyclops (Tye Sheridan: Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse 2015, Ready Player One 2018). Despite Turner’s performance, Jean Grey’s relationship with Cyclops often felt forced and completely lacking in chemistry. Thankfully, there were plenty of other memorable moments between characters to make up for it.
All in all, after nearly two decades of history, Dark Phoenix was a decent send-off for the X-Men as we know it. The last few moments especially felt final and satisfying, though still open to new possibilities. Do not feel the need to hang around for a post-credits scene this time – this is truly the closing of the book. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Dark Phoenix 4 out of 5 stars.