Last week, I finally watched Dark Phoenix and I could tell within 15 minutes that it wasn’t going to be good. From the start, everything about it seemed to be off, particularly compared with other, more recent comic book films. This is not Logan or Joker. It’s not even as good as Apocalypse. Dark Phoenix felt like a comic book film from 2002 that somehow got made and released in 2019.
The latest installment of the X-Men film saga opens in 1992. The X-Men have been hailed as heroes and it finally looks like like the dreams of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) are going to come true. Humans and mutants are going to co-exist. Unfortunately, all of that progress is undone when Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) connects with a surge of energy and her powers go supernova. Jean discovers that she was responsible for her mother’s death and her father rejected her as a result. She also learns Xavier placed a mental block in her mind. Seriously pissed off, Jean flees to the island of Genosha, which is ruled over by Magneto (Michael Fassbender). She also accidentally kills Mystique, therefore freeing Jennifer Lawrence from having to appear in any more of these movies. All the while, a shape-shifting alien named Vuk (a slumming Jessica Chastain) wants to capture Jean’s powers and use them for herself.
This was the second attempt to bring the Dark Phoenix saga to the screen and somehow, it was even more bland and forgettable than X-Men: Last Stand. The Dark Phoenix saga is one of the greatest comic book storylines of all time but it seems destined to never be the basis of a good movie. In the comic books, the Dark Phoenix saga was the accumulation of two decades of storytelling. After being the most forgettable member of the original X-Men, Jean suddenly became the most powerful mutant in the world. When she sacrificed herself for the good of the universe, it was not only the end of her life but also the end of one of Marvel’s longest-running love stories, as Cyclops could only cradle her body afterwards. As usual, Marvel later lessened the emotional impact by revealing that the Phoenix wasn’t actually Jean but just an alien force that took on her memories and personality while the real Jean remained in suspended animation at the bottom of Jamaica Bay. Despite this, the Dark Phoenix saga still remains a prime example of Marvel at its best.
Why, with such great source material and a talented cast, was this latest film version of the Dark Phoenix saga so cumbersome? No one seemed to care. Unlike in the comic books, there was no emotional depth to the story of Jean Grey losing herself and becoming the Dark Phoenix. Instead, every scene felt like it was just there to set up the next CGI-fueled confrontation. Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan (who played Cyclops) seemed to barely know each other and the film spent more time on Nicholas Hoult’s Beast mourning for Mystique than on the relationship that should have been at the center of the film. None of the actors seemed to be invested in the story. I’ve never seen Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, and James McAvoy look so bored. The inevitable Magneto scene felt pointless. The comic books could take a break from Magneto and let other villains have a turn. The movies have to find an excuse to force him into every story.
It’s been said that the X-Men will be moving into the MCU and will get a whole new reboot. We’ll probably get a third Dark Phoenix film someday. I hope this one gets it right.