Dark Phoenix makes for a satisfying conclusion to the X-Men series while we wait for the proper return of the mutants into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“What you choose to do with your gift is entirely up to you,” Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) tells eight-year-old Jean Grey in 1975.
While Simon Kinberg now moves into the director’s chair, he also makes up for the single worst X-Men film. It’s no easy task. For one, the film needs to conclude the four prequel films. Nobody knows what the future will bring for the mutants now that Disney owns Fox. The big thing for Marvel is that the company now has their rights back in house. The question going into the long term will be how do you bring the X-Men and other mutants into the wider MCU. These questions must be pushed to the side when watching this film for the good of any enjoyment.
The prequels see the X-Men playing larger role. Charles Xavier’s has his own private phone line with the president (Brian D’Aarcy James)! How about that?!? They’ve become so popular to the point that Xavier’s ego has certainly gone to his head. This leads to Raven Darkhölme (Jennifer Lawrence) to point out that the team should be called X-Women for as many times as the women save their butts. For what it’s worth, Raven’s at a point where she’s ready to move on and hopes to bring Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) with her into retirement.
It’s so fascinating to see where Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is with his life in this film. Gone are his days of killing! He now leads a group of mutants on the mutant-owned island of Genosha. This island was given over to mutants by the US government and it’s the first time we see it on the big screen. We don’t spend much time there but there’s a key sequence involving a helicopter between Erik and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). Jean came to Genosha hoping for refuge but after the copter incident, it seems very unlikely.
The big action takes place on a train headed to a mutant internment camp. For all the good that they’ve been able to accomplish, Jean Grey’s loss of control has the government chasing the X-Men. They’re not the only ones. The D’Bari Empire, led by Yuk (Jessica Chastain), are also chasing them because of the Phoenix force that now resides in Jean following their time in space. Yuk wants to help Jean harness comic force. Because of her powers, Jean is one of the most powerful mutants. If Yuk can help her get it under control, there’s no telling what could happen. Of course, this is easier said than done. We’re soon privy to what may very well be the best on-screen train fight since Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s X-Men verses the D’Bari and they’re all fighting over Jean.
The X-Men have suffered losses over the years. Dark Phoenix is certainly no different. We get a loss that will no doubt tear the team apart, setting up a wide range of emotions. Yes, it’s an accident but I feel that it must happen to drive the emotional conflict between characters. It’s this emotional conflict that could very well tear the X-Men apart. After the last film, we have a film that’s character-driven and grounded. We still have some epic set pieces but nothing quite like the previous film.
Moreover, there’s going to be some never-ending timeline questions. Despite some of the theories in X-Men: Days of Future Past, the original trilogy likely never takes place in this timeline. I have even more questions regarding the closing scenes of Days of Future Past. That’s an article for another day. Back to the film at hand, Kinberg’s film does justice to the Dark Phoenix story. Chris Claremont and John Byrne would be proud. This film is more faithful to their work. It’s not overloaded with another main plot about the cure.
As far as where people are in their lives when the film ends, it’s satisfying. Yeah, I wish other people were there but oh, well. I still can’t help but think that this film is going down an entirely different timeline that doesn’t take into account the scenes we saw in 2023 just a few years ago.
The single biggest question is how are these characters not aging! An entire decade has passed since the events of X-Men: Apocalypse but you could never tell. If Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr are supposed to become Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, this film would have you thinking otherwise. Again, it’s been thirty years since X-Men: First Class when Charles was 30 and Erik was about 31. Given that years flash on screen, it would make sense for both men to visibly be in their 60s. Not so fast according to Dark Phoenix. They aren’t the only ones who aren’t aging. The new crop seen training at the end of X-Men: Apocalypse hasn’t aged a bit!
If you don’t think too hard about the original trilogy, Dark Phoenix works quite well.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Simon KInberg
CAST: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Jessica Chastain