Dark Phoenix is not good, and it certainly is not necessary. In an effort to perform a rescue in outer space results in the near-demise of Jean Grey, played by Sophie Turner of Game of Thrones, she is engulfed in some sort of unexplainable radioactive mass while using her psychic powers. It appears that she absorbs whatever the alien is, but in reality the alien has overtaken Jean and is causing her to “lose control” of her powers.
For the uninitiated, the storyline of The Dark Phoenix is one of the most famous and highly depicted of the entire X-Men franchise, from the comics to the Animated Adventures cartoon series and the previous X-Men film series.
I do not understand why 20th Century Fox agreed to have the writer of one of the worst X-Men films, X-Men: The Last Stand, which in part uses the Dark Phoenix story, do this story a second time. Why, if not solely to stroke the ego of writer/director/producer Simon Kinberg? Once was enough. A better move would have been to allow others to take on the job after Bryan Singer’s involvement ended, especially considering the sheer volume of talented writers who have written the comics and directors who could’ve done a better job in general.
The story centers on Jean’s sudden transformation, then makes a shift toward several much-needed fight sequences. Turner makes the best of what she is given, but she doesn’t get a powerful emotional moment that she deserves. Many of these dramatic moments are ones where we either feel sorry for how some of the men in her life mistreat her, or when she is too far out of control to connect to her human side without literally placing her in some weird alleyway in the rain, crying about not knowing who she is and why she’s unable to control her powers anymore. It’s nice that the movie gets to the point very quickly, but we don’t get a chance to establish a connection to Jean before she becomes something else, and that’s pretty vital when the movie is about her.
In the midst of Jean’s fall into Dark Phoenix, Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) admits that he has conveniently left out key details of her childhood leading up to her arrival at his school. Jean is angry. Worse, she is more powerful than everyone else on the planet. Only Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) seems to notice, and stands up for her. Jean goes on a rampage, and the X-Men must find and defeat her before she destroys everything that the professor has done to build trust between mutants and humans over the last few films. Dark Phoenix nearly forgets one key relationship: Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) do not appear on screen together until halfway through. When it does happen, we can see what the film was going for, in that the two are more similar than they appear.
As military helicopters attempt to raid Magneto’s home, we see that the chopper pilots are calm, as in, they don’t move at all from shot to shot. I don’t know if they used dummies for this, but it made it apparent that this just isn’t good. Funny how this film does not have the words “X-Men” in the title (note: I am aware of The Wolverine and Logan; they are a different case, as is X2). Additionally, the score was just as unfortunate as the movie. It is disappointing to hear a droning score for this film, and then see it attributed to Hans Zimmer. I wanted to believe that it could be good, and maybe it could even be better than The Last Stand, and that maybe his vision of that film was different enough from what was filmed that he could be successful.
For me, the best part of the film came toward the end; the climax of the train scene gave the film a punch of adrenaline that it was sorely needed. In some ways, the best of Dark Phoenix made me think of Terminator 2: Judgement Day in its approach to violence, but also in a negative way, because the CGI looked and felt like something from the early 90s.
Whether or not you see Dark Phoenix is, of course, entirely up to you. It’s probably fine for some. But watchable does not mean good, and the story deserved more. Honestly, we need justice for Jean.