In 1975, Young Jean Grey (Summer Fontana) accidentally unleashes her mutant powers while on a family road trip, resulting in the deaths of her parents. She’s taken in by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) who gets to work “fixing” her broken mind while giving her a home at his school for gifted youngsters.
Jump ahead to right after the events of X-Men: Apocalypse, the President of the United States (Brian d’Arcy James) and the world are in gracious debt of Xavier and his group of X-Men: Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). So when a NASA space shuttle is in trouble, the X-Men are asked to step in to save the day. In doing so, the heroes almost lose one of their own as an unusual cloud of galactic energy goes into the body of Jean Grey.
This cosmic being in Jean boosts her power levels to such an extent, even Xavier can’t reign her in when she starts having violent outbursts that put the lives of everyone she loves in jeopardy. This thing insider her is changing her… not just making her more powerful, but also affecting her personality and mental stability, turning her into a global threat that the X-Men soon realize they have to put down in order to save the world once more. Meanwhile, a group of alien refugees seek to use Jean and the new power within her as the tool for their own ambitions.
Dark Phoenix is, supposedly, the final installment in the X-Men franchise, just as Avengers: Endgame was the grand finale for the Avengers team. Nobody believes this, of course, now that Marvel (Disney) finally owns the X-Men characters after this movie… but, let’s assume for the sake of this review that it really is the last one. This wasn’t a great note to end on.
Let me start by saying I did NOT hate this movie as much as many other reviewers have. I’ve seen words like “terrible”, “awful”, and even “dogshit” circulating around this title. In truth, the best word to describe it would be “disappointing”.
For starters, I’m a little confused by even the premise of the film. Writer/Director Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Apocalypse, Fantastic Four) seems to have completely forgotten the previous movie. We already saw Jean Grey essentially use the Phoenix Force to defeat Apocalypse. She already had the power inside her. But now, in this movie, it takes a cosmic entity entering her body to give her that power? I know some of the X-Men movies have ret-conned previous films (like X-Men: Days of Future Past that essentially made the original trilogy null and void), but this is a huge thing to wipe the slate clean of from one film to the next. Did they think we wouldn’t notice when Jean’s brutal force in the previous movie even had the shape of a phoenix (as opposed to this movie where’s is a purple/red cloud)?
In addition to the confusing ret-conning, whether accidental or on purpose, we’ve got a story that just doesn’t scream “grand finale”. Vuk (Jessica Chastain) makes a pretty average villain, although her team of aliens did seem more formidable here than the Skrull from Captain Marvel. Jean Grey’s power boost should have made her a massive threat, but again all we saw her do was destroy a small town block as opposed to the devastating destruction we’ve seen in other X-men films.
Let’s face it, Famke Janssen’s version of Dark Phoenix from X-Men: The Last Stand caused more chaos and destruction than Sophie Turner’s version did (curiously, Simon Kinberg wrote both films). Setting the disappointing story aside for a moment – the dialogue of this film was pretty laughable (not in a good way), the acting was flat all around, the pacing was awkward as the story stretched across multiple scenes of “what’s happening to her?” and “what’s happening to me” moments, and even some of the special effects seemed a little last minute.
Despite all this, Dark Phoenix wasn’t a terrible movie. I still had fun when there was fun to be had. And I’m not even going to be that annoying fanboy of the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix sagas from the comics and 1990’s animated series and complain about how poorly the source material was handled here. I’m just saying that, as a big farewell to Fox’s twenty-year long long X-Men franchise, this was a weak note to leave us on.