Dark Phoenix - Review
A mess of character arcs, massive set-pieces and misplaced intentions.
Dark Phoenix has a fairly accurate parallel in Game of Thrones. After succeeding in the initial run, the famed HBO show’s fifth season took a dive in terms of meaningful events, deaths, or really much of anything. Season six took marked steps to correct this, resulting in a season that felt less like Game of Thrones and more like The Return of the King. It was the most exciting season yet in rate of deaths, reunions, and triumphs, but to do that it traded on the years of character development that established GOT as the best show on TV. 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse is the season five: Not very good, but it still felt like a natural continuation of what came before. Dark Phoenix, which is an X-Men movie, in case you were confused, is the season six.
The benefits of being four films deep into a franchise that began in 2011 (the same year Game of Thrones premiered) finally begin to show in Dark Phoenix. Gone are the days of humans rejecting mutants; instead we’re dropped right into the action as our heroes rocket into space to save a US astronaut crew. They’re aware of their powers, and trained enough to use them without needing one of the older mutants to bail them out. The growth these four films (beginning with X-Men: First Class) have shown has often been under the table, seeing as they’ve jumped decades for each installment and always manage to keep the actors looking exactly the same age. But as the younger mutants like Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) get to show their teeth, the older generation is stifled to an extent that mirrors The Last Stand.
Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is stubborn as ever, but decides to put his differences with long-time enemy Eric Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) aside to play a game of chess (another call-back to the much-maligned The Last Stand) for the final shot? This is where the payoff aspect of Dark Phoenix completely misses the mark. In choosing to focus almost entirely on a new threat of aliens and Jean Gray’s (Sophie Turner) characteristically turbulent arc, there is little time left to wrap things up with those who started the series. I’ll be the last one to say that this rebooted X-Men franchise has been fantastic, or at the very least good, but for awhile at the beginning it was fresh. Eric and Charles’ bromance in First Class, the simple-yet-genius move to place Wolverine at the center of Days of Future Past; everything the series set up is either knocked into the sea or completely ignored by Dark Phoenix, which ends up feeling more like the start of a new trilogy than a sequel to Apocalypse, or any X-Men film.
That is not going to happen, as Disney now owns 20th Century Fox and plans to incorporate the X-Men into the MCU. Hooray. Dark Phoenix is not the send off this once-exciting series should have had, but it does try. There are big action setpieces, a ludicrous number of special effects, and two major character deaths; like season six of Game of Thrones, though, these aren’t the moments the series was building toward. Instead of pulse-pounding game-changers, they feel like overdue events fans would have predicted. But at least we got to see Charles walk!