On the heels of one of the most disappointing X-Men films in franchise history, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a surprise return to form for the decade spanning superhero series. Where X-Men: Apocalypse crippled itself by its obsession over epic spectacles and one dimensional villains, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a much more personal and decent project – one that is often benefitted by having a strong focus on character development as well as themes uncommon across other films of its genre.
At its core, the X-Men movies have always thrived when character is at the forefront of its story. First Class breathed new life into the franchise by having the dynamic between Professor X and Magneto be the driving force of the narrative, Days of Future Past is often regarded as one of the greatest superhero films ever due to its incredible balance between spectacle and character. While not reaching the storytelling heights nor the thematic complexity of either films, the essence of Dark Phoenix leans more towards those movies than say, The Last Stand or Apocalypse.
Clear focus on character development over spectacle
Jean Grey’s story in the film is particularly interesting as the film does a commendable job in examining the traumas in her life as well as its effects. Much like Iron Man 3’s focus on Tony Stark and his battle against PTSD, Dark Phoenix hones in on topics uncommon to superhero stories such as repressed trauma and unresolved grief. While Jean’s arc in Dark Phoenix can feel rushed at times (considering that she has only been in one other film prior to Dark Phoenix), her development is grounded and fleshed out through an outstanding performance by Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones).
Mutant and proud: all of your old favourites are back
The core First Class team is back as well. Dark Phoenix once again reaffirms my belief that the casting of Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) remains one of the greatest casting decisions of all time. While many may have been wary of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Mystique, her character heads off into an interesting direction that plays off significantly well against Nicholas Hoult’s Beast. In addition, Jessica Chastain’s performance as an alien shapeshifter who manipulates the Phoenix serves as a welcome addition to the franchise as well.
the newcomers & Pacing issues prevented the movie from reaching great heights
While the smaller scale worked in favour of the film, I can’t deny that the experience would have been more significant and meaningful if we were given more time to spend with the new cast members. The Dark Phoenix Saga storyline had an extensive history of over a hundred comic book issues beforehand, whereas you can count the amount of times this latest iteration of Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) appearing with two fingers. With the exception of Jean Grey, there really isn’t much that the audience can tell you about the newcomers aside from “cool powers”. In addition, Dark Phoenix also suffers from pacing issues. The film can at times feel like a bit of a drag, largely due to a lack of a solid narrative structure.
As nonsensical and mundane as Apocalypse was, Dark Phoenix is equally but effectively thoughtful and planned out. Following the underwhelming reception of X-Men: Apocalypse and Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox’s assets, it is understandable that many are looking forward to the series’ inevitable reboot under Disney and the MCU’s regime and give the movie a pass. A few flaws aside, X-Men: Dark Phoenix succeeds as a passable sendoff to the franchise by being a thoughtful and entertaining superhero film, balanced by well-earned drama.