Dark Phoenix ***
One Liner Review:
Not a bad movie, this one definitely adds to the story of the X-Men and features some nice additions to the rebooted series, including seeing the X-Men all work together and seeing a version of Magneto’s brotherhood team that actually makes sense.
It’s sad that Dark Phoenix is the last in the Fox X-Men movies, because this movie definitely makes a number of improvements to what we got in the last film. With this one, Simon Kinberg (the writer of most of the movies, who is directing for the first time with this one,) has figured out a lot of what didn’t work in the past, and is using those mistakes to finally get things right. So, we have a version of Magneto’s brotherhood team of evil mutants, (for example,) that isn’t really evil and doesn’t have any ridiculously contrived mission. We get to see the X-Men use their powers in combination with each other for the first time. And Storm actually gets some cool things to do for once. The story is fine, but it just doesn’t give enough time to the villains, a team of aliens that really needed more development.
Dark Phoenix (or X-Men: Dark Phoenix, as the movie should be called,) is the last movie in the Fox X-Men series. Not the most recent movie, but the absolute last movie. That’s because Disney bought Fox, and all of its properties, and now plans to one day reboot the series with their own cast of characters. Something similar to what they did with Spider Man, casting Tom Holland. How or when Disney is going to do this is anyones guess. They will probably remake the Fantastic Four first, (since X-Men is still so close to the hearts of many, and Fantastic Four movies have not been nearly as loved, making them more ripe for a remake.) My best guess is that Disney starts off slow, with the X-Men, putting a new Wolverine or Professor X or Magneto inside of another movie, and featuring some post credits scene that would give a clue about this character finding or forming the X-Men. But for now, we are left with Dark Phoenix, and it’s surprisingly not half-bad.
I saw surprisingly because everything the media and critics would have you believe is that this movie is lousy. Only it isn’t. Since buying Fox, Disney has done this movie no favors, and in many ways the studio set up road blocks so that the film wouldn’t do as well as it maybe otherwise could have. Remember, Disney wanted this movie to do poorly, so they could quietly end it, and then one day reboot it. So, first Disney removed X-Men from the title -Men movie.” of the film, making it appeal only to those who knew what Dark Phoenix was. Secondly, the movie was supposed to feature the Skrulls as the villains.This is an alien race from Marvel comics. But once Disney acquired Fox, they put the Skruls into their movie, Captain Marvel, (even though Dark Phoenix was filmed first.) And so Dark Phoenix had to rework its ending, in which the name of their alien race was revealed. And to rework their ending, they had to delay the release quite a bit. The movie was supposed to come out in the fall of 2018. Then in February of 2019. It ended coming out in June of 2019.
That release date hurt it a lot. First, all of the reshoots lead to people assuming the movie was pretty bad, (Why do they keep going back to recut it? What isn’t working? How bad is this thing?) Turns out those weren’t the reasons for the reshoots at all, but it definitely gave the movie some negative buzz. And then there’s the release date itself. Coming after Captain Marvel, (both Captain Marvel and Dark Phoenix were supposed to end on board alien space ships, so naturally the Dark Phoenix ending lost out again, and had to change.) And ending up in June meant coming out after The Avengers: Endgame, perhaps the most profitable superhero movie of all time. Talk about bad timing. If all of this sounds like coincidence, and like maybe Disney didn’t tank the film on purpose, let me offer up one more piece of evidence…. Disney pulled all X-Men comics from being created. They haunted production on anything that was in the works, and cut the comic series off. This was clearly a move done to bring less attention to the X-Men and hope that fans turned to other superheroes, (like their Avengers,) instead.
And all of this is a real shame, because Dark Phoenix is actually pretty decent. It’s not great or anything, but it certainly does a lot right. And it is far better than some of the other films in the series, most notably Apocalypse, (the most recent X-Men movie before this one.) Dark Phoenix is about Jean Grey, (Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner,) dealing with her powers, which overcome her in a way that she no longer has control. We saw all of this before in X-Men III: The Last Stand, which was the first movie that Simon Kinberg wrote, (he went on to be the writer of many other films in the series.) Well, this time, with Dark Phoenix, he’s directing. That’s kind of ironic, considering that he wrote the movie that is widely considered to have screwed up the story. Kinberg can’t exactly be like “this is our version that tells the story right, after they screwed it up all those years ago,” when he’s the one who wrote that lousy film.
And yet, Dark Phoenix does do a lot of things right, that many films in the series do not. From the very opening, a flashback with young Jean and her parents in a car, things are pretty interesting. Jean involuntarily causes a car accident that result in her mother’s death. And despite the scene being pretty similar to an early scene in Shazam, (this movie can’t get any breaks, when comparing it to other superhero films,) the scene is still pretty good. Especially with what follows it. Two scenes between Professor X (James McAvoy, stilll with hair, since this is a flashback,) meeting with the young Jean Grey after the accident. He talks about wanting her to come to the school, and has a response for every predictable thing that both he and the audience knows she’s going to say. When he says that people like her are special, we know she’s about to say, “that’s just another way of saying we’re freaks,” and he knows it too, and is right there, ready with a the smart response. When he takes her to the X Mansion, for the second of these scenes, the clever interactions continue, as he explains to her that he’s not going to fix her, because she’s not broken.
From there we move into present day, with the X Men gearing up to take on a mission. They’re going into space, The movie wastes no time introducing them or leading us slowly from one character to the next. Instead, they’re all there in the launching room, getting ready. And there’s a bunch of them. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence,) Hank, (Nicholas Hoult,) Cyclops, Storm, Night Crawler, and Quicksilver. And these guys are young. McAvoy is the oldest of the X-Men, but after him it’s Jennifer Lawrence and Hoult, (still in their twenties.) It’s pretty cool that none of these cast members are new, and that they are all returning from previous films, (the last movie brought in a whole bunch of them.) And now, we finally get to see them all together on a single mission.
The space mission does not disappoint. It features each of the X-Men using his or her powers, often in combination with each other. So Night Crawler and Quick Silver go out into space together, for example, with Night Crawler using his teleportation, (so great that the movies never changed the look of his teleportation, ever since it was established in X-Men 2, about fifteen years ago,) to get Quicksilver into the other space shuttle, and then Quicksilver running around, once inside of it, to grab all of the astronughts, before Night Crawler teleports them back. At this point, the movie is doing everything right. And that includes small touches and tributes, like a shot of the basketball court opening at the X Mansion, and the X Jet launching from out of the area underneath it, (we briefly saw something like this in the very first movie, but since then have only heard about it, them having a plane that launches from under the basketball court.) Later on, we even get to see exactly where this court is, in relation to the grounds of the mansion. These are small details or tributes for the fans that we never really got to see before. Even the X Mansion looks better than ever, with that early scene where a young Jean comes to see it, walks around, and takes it all in.
But once the space mission ends, things start to go downhill a bit. Mystique (called Raven throughout this movie,) constantly guilt trips Professor X for everything he has done in relation to Jean. First she gives him a hard time about the space mission, blaming him for putting all of their lives in danger. Then, as she finds out about his history with Jean, and how he has created walls inside her mind to block the bad memories from her conscious, she continues to confront him. It gets to the point where she approaches him about these problems three times. She even starts calling out things like the name of the X-Men. “It’s the women who are always saving the men around here. Maybe you should change it to X-Women.” Then in another scene, she tells a character, “Who do you think the X is named after?” So she is taking apart the “Men” in the team name, in once scene, and the “X” in the team name in another. This is pretty stupid stuff.