The X–Men series has 12 movies in 19 years and Dark Phoenix may have not been planned to be the ending of the X–Men series (and isn’t since New Mutants will come out next year) but since Disney ate 20th Century Fox anything new from the Merry Mutants will fall under the Marvel Cinematic Universe and in the indeterminate future the X–Men will be palling around with Thor and/or Black Panther and/or Doctor Strange, etc. This awkwardly forces Dark Phoenix to be the series conclusion, which falls short because this doesn’t come close to the epic finale of Avengers: Endgame. But Dark Phoenix is mostly, and entertainingly, a self–contained story about superpowers gone haywire. Dark Phoenix isn’t near the greatness of previous X–installments like X2, Logan, Deadpool, or X–Men: Days of Future Past, but it has superpowers, pathos and enough cool stuff to be satisfying.
When the mutant superheroes X–Men go to space to save astronauts caught in a solar flare, powerful psychic mutant Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbs the flare. She gets twitchy and has uncontrollable power outbursts so leader Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) tries to bring her in with the help of Jean’s boyfriend Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Beast (Nicolas Hoult), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit–McPhee) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). However, their attempt goes very, very wrong and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), the master of magnetism, vows to stop Jean by any means necessary. Further complicating things is the shapeshifting alien Vuk (Jessica Chastain) wants to use Jean’s powers for nefarious means, but Jean’s Phoenix force is so strong it threatens to burn everything.
Setting Dark Phoenix in the early ‘90s doesn’t add anything. First Class and Days of Future Past were awash in tonal references to their respective decades of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Apocalypse was set in the ‘80s but mostly conveyed by people wearing shoulder pads. But the ‘90s in Dark Phoenix are barely there which is odd considering the distinct ‘90s vibe that permeated the other space superhero movie, Captain Marvel. There’s also some annoying discontinuity wherein at the end of Apocalypse Jean Grey goes full Phoenix to defeat the bad guy yet the Phoenix here is presented as all new. It’s not a deal breaker but is weird considering the last few X–Men movies have the same writer.
Despite the a large ensemble, basically the two main characters are Jean and Professor X. The movie opens with a harrowing scene of kid Jean setting off her mutant powers and meeting Xavier which appropriately sets up the stakes; Jean has always been potentially dangerous, and Charles has been trying to control her. There’s a good sense of creeping menace that is happening to Jean which Turner conveys. It’s an emotional performance from her as she spends a chunk of the movie basically freaked out by her powers and when she goes full Phoenix on baddies it looks cool. Although if there was a counter at how many times someone yells “JEAN!” in this movie it would probably hit like 50. McAvoy’s Professor X has become a bit overconfident but the lies he told to Jean as a child come back to haunt him. Magneto has an apt withering put down of Charles Xavier’s increasingly bad decisions, snapping, “You’re always sorry, Charles. And there’s always a speech. And no one cares!”
Probably the third biggest character is Chastain’s alien baddie Vuk who is underwhelming. She’s there because they needed a bigger evil so audiences wouldn’t completely hate Jean when she breaks bad. Chastain is an interesting actress but, aside from a darkly funny introductory scene wherein as a dopey human she absorbed by the space alien Vuk, she spends most of the movie emotionless. Still, there is an incredibly cool bit when Magneto unleashes literally an entire armory of bullets on her and she just keeps advancing. Fassbender’s Magneto’s basic arc is the same as it was in Apocalypse, Mags tries to be a man of peace but gets sucked into the conflict when misfortune strikes. The final battle of Dark Phoenix takes place on a speeding train that is crawling with evil aliens and the mutants use their powers in a nicely chaotic extended action scene, and everything Magneto does is way cool.
Cyclops is supposedly the movie’s emotional core as Jean’s boyfriend but unfortunately the most impactful thing he does is dropping a random and tonally awkward f–bomb at Magneto. Hoult’s Beast sort of hangs out, although he gets in a nicely dramatic chat with Xavier after a tragedy. Storm and Nightcrawler just seem to be there to shoot lightning and go poof in action scenes. Lawrence’s Mystique gets a funny zinger about how the team should be called “X–Women” and her exit from the movie is powerful. Quicksilver the speedy mutant is roughly sidelined by Jean which shows her power, although is a mite disappointing because more Quicksilver is always a plus.
Dark Phoenix has a possibly unfair burden of finality but as a singular story about Jean Grey losing control it’s more satisfying than X–Men: The Last Stand was. Dark Phoenix has great action bits, good dramatic moments, a propulsive, freaky musical score by Hans Zimmer and a stirring third act climax. The X–Men series has much better movies but this one has punch where it counts. V
Director: Simon Kinberg
Starring: James McAvoy,
Michael Fassbender and