Written by Matt Cunningham
After nearly 20 years of films involving iconic characters such as Wolverine, Magneto, and Charles Xaiver (Professor X), the X-Men franchise comes to an end with Dark Phoenix. The film was released for an opening night fan event on June 6 and officially released nationwide on June 7. The film’s all-star cast includes James McAvoy, (Split, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Atomic Blonde) Sophie Turner, (Game of Thrones, X-Men Apocalypse, and Josie) Nicholas Hoult (Tolkien, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Clash of the Titans) and Michael Fassbender (300, Alien: Covenant, and Inglorious Bastards). The movie was written and directed by Simon Kinberg, making this his directorial debut.
The X-Men go on a space mission to save astronauts from their malfunctioning rocketship. As the X-Men approach the ship to save the astronauts, Turner’s character Jean Grey stays in the ship for a bit too long. Jean takes in the power of an unknown cosmic force that makes her immensely more powerful as she becomes Phoenix. Everything seems fine at first, but when her new powers start hurting the people she loves, Jean is forced to battle an internal cosmic entity that brings out her emotionally scarred past. This leaves the X-Men in a frenzy, because some of them believe they need to kill Jean, while some believe they need to save her. Meanwhile, there is an alien race that is invading Earth that hopes to use the cosmic force to take over the galaxy.
The actors in the film help bring the riveting script to life with exceptional performances across the board. While X-Men fans have had years to become attached to these characters, this film made me care more about these characters than I ever have in previous installments. The X-Men have a conflict amongst themselves that causes a bitter divide, and that aspect of the movie was fascinating. The movie deeply explored the motivations behind all of its characters; this made them all feel human and relatable, which is extremely difficult to do in a superhero movie. There is no hilarious over-acting. Each line of dialogue is delivered at a perfect tone, and it is rather entertaining to see top-tier actors showing off their chops in a big-budget blockbuster.
The film’s production pleasantly exceeded my expectations. None of the trailers made the film’s production look all that stellar. The visual effects shine bright in a brilliant action sequence involving a train near the end of the film. Kinberg’s action looks like a veteran director’s efforts, as wide shots are used in exhilarating fight scenes. His ability to make such a memorable and unique action sequence using the confined space of a train is admirable to say the least.
An easy criticism one can make about Dark Phoenix is that it can’t shake its feeling of similarity to another film in the franchise. This is because the film X-Men: The Last Stand also explored the Dark Phoenix plotline. However, it was not done well in that film. I felt that this film explored the character much more effectively, which in turn created a better viewing experience.
Dark Phoenix is not a perfect film. There are a few minor negatives that do not take too much enjoyment out of the movie. The aliens that invade Earth are extremely stereotypical. They are shown as villains in the film, and all they want is power to rule the galaxy. There is a brief scene of exposition that explains why they feel they need to do this, but it felt rushed. The alien characters are not developed, their motivations are not explored deeply enough, and it’s difficult to care what they’re doing, because I wanted to see what the X-Men were doing.
Audiences may not enjoy how grim the film can be at times. Turner’s acting brings Phoenix’s depressing past to life, which is something that film lovers will appreciate. Casual movie fans will likely hate this aspect of the movie and say it’s too sad to watch when they are just wanting the X-Men to beat up bad guys for the entire runtime. However, people looking for a more story-driven film with characters that feel like real human beings, this movie brings all of that and more.
Other than a couple of things that didn’t work, the movie is a captivating story that brings a satisfying conclusion to an iconic franchise. From top-notch acting to dazzling special effects, Dark Phoenix should satisfy most X-Men fans. I will remember it as one of my favorites in the franchise, and I’m going to give it an A-.