Long before Thanos snapped his fingers or Iron Man built his suit, Twentieth Century Fox took a chance on a superhero movie, and the X-Men franchise was born in 2000. Since then, the series about Marvel mutants hit some highs and lows, but none of them as low as the Fantastic Four films. With the power of Disney behind everything Marvel, the legalities of bringing the X-Men characters (as well as the Spider-Man property from Sony) back into the fold have been completed. Rather than go out with a bang, the final X-Men movie from Fox stumbles across the finish line. It’s almost as if Fox didn’t care what happened because events here don’t fit with things that transpired in previous films. Despite a good final act, Dark Phoenix feels like a stand-alone story with little connection to the franchise other than some of the actors/characters and a country that still doesn’t trust mutants.
Although more prominent actors reprise their roles, this story focuses on Jean Grey (Sophie Turner of Game of Thrones) and her evolution into the titular entity. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) took in a young Jean (a memorable Summer Fontana) after a family tragedy, and she developed her psychic powers over more than a decade. When the Professor volunteers the X-Men to save astronauts on a space shuttle in 1992, Jean gets zapped with some cosmic plasma and becomes dangerous as her powers lead to destruction that she can’t control. Aliens led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain) hunt down Jean just as her X-Men cohorts try to save her. Writer/director Simon Kinberg previously produced some of the X-Men entries, but this is his first writing/directing gig. Based on a popular comic book story arc, Dark Phoenix needed some adjustment to pacing and should have been integrated more seamlessly into the franchise given the fate of some characters.
Turner commands the screen and easily shoulders the heavy acting that both adds dimension to her character and sometimes turns Dark Phoenix into a maudlin TV movie. Most of the cast members reprise their roles from X-Men: Apocalypse, so there’s some continuity in terms of character relationships and familiar faces. Both Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique and Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast bounce back and forth between their blue selves and more human forms. I can only guess that the actors asked to be blue as little as possible. Although Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen more closely match the Professor Xavier and Magneto from the comics, the younger versions through McAvoy and Michael Fassbender create their own energy that anchors some of the best moments in the recent movies. I like Chastain in most of her roles, but her platinum blonde Vuk comes off as a bit too creepy for my tastes. I’m sure that she’ll be back in top form for It Chapter Two later this year.
You expect amazing special effects, and Dark Phoenix doesn’t skimp. It took many years for the digital effects folks to give us a great Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) “Bamf” — the sound made when he teleports and disappears or reappears with smoke — and there are plenty of examples here. Jean’s skin cracks open when her new powers are overloading, and the look of a lava field conveys the strength within. Professor Xavier’s Cerebro computer gets a face-lift so that the images projected onto the sphere that houses Cerebro seem more alive and present than just another form of a TV monitor. A finale on a train takes your breath away and makes trudging through some of the earlier scenes worth the wait. Although it’s typical for Storm (Alexandra Shipp) to generate lightning, I couldn’t help but laugh that she looked like a bug zapper.
The disconnect with other X-Men movies and the pacing were my biggest complaints with Dark Phoenix, but that doesn’t mean that fans won’t find some good moments here and there. This final Fox film just doesn’t rise to the level of the great X-Men: Days of Future Past. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine elevates any movie to a higher plane, and you can’t expect to see him with the long sideburns and adamantium claws again. Although we include a link to the official trailers with our reviews, please don’t watch this one without a warning. Someone inexperienced put together this trailer because it gives away a major character’s death and summarizes the entire story from start to finish… in order. I gritted my teeth when I realized that fact, and I did it again when Raven delivers a line that’s clearly uttered for virtue signaling.
The Fox X-Men era is over. Long live the X-Men! The last scene of the movie sets up another story and character dynamic that will never happen. Recasting rumors abound, and as pioneering as the franchise was for the Marvel Cinematic Universe that followed, it will be exciting to see where Marvel takes the mutants next. Dark Phoenix sits between Avengers: Endgame and next month’s Spider-Man: Far from Home this summer. Love it or hate it, Marvel knows how to keep a steady stream of titles headed to theaters, even if this one was more of a miss than a hit. Dark Phoenix will certainly Bamf out of the way when Spider-Man swings into town.