In X-Men: Dark Phoenix, our favorite team of mutants experience their biggest threat yet, and it comes from within their own ranks. While doing a rescue mission in space, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) bonds with a mysterious cosmic force that makes her not only extremely powerful but also more volatile, causing a rift between her and X-Men leader Charles Xavier (James McAvoy).
The Beardict: Despite what the majority of critics and moviegoers are saying, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is no slouch. Sure, it suffers from some pacing problems, and the conclusion of the franchise may not be as “epic” as what we would have wanted, but it still packs a solid punch and gives us an entertaining film worthy of our time. Don’t be too convinced of how Rotten Tomatoes has rated it so far: Listen to your mutant-lover heart and give it a shot.
There have been way too many negative reviews on X-Men: Dark Phoenix already, so we’re going to approach it this way: highlight what the movie did right here, and discuss what stopped it from being great in another article.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
What went right:
The Dark Phoenix treatment – visual effects and Sophie Turner’s performance. In 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, the Dark Phoenix power came from inside of Jean. This time around, they described it as a cosmic entity, which is more believable and closer to the source material. Visual effects were spot on, as the use of bright color for the Phoenix flame was effective in showing it as a force of both life and destruction (The Last Stand concentrated on the decay part too much). It was awesome to see the power course through Jean, as it seemed like she could take on Captain Marvel and Scarlet Witch at the same time. Fans were skeptical at first, but casting Sophie Turner as the title character was a stroke of genius. Showing a significant improvement to her X-Men: Apocalypse performance, her charm, towering presence, and ability to convey raw emotions are more than enough to convert non-fans to believers.
Cyclops is the best version of himself. The most mistreated character in the entire X-Men franchise is obviously Scott Summers. Supposed to be the X-Men’s ground leader and one of the most formidable mutants around, he has been constantly reduced to supporting roles movie after movie. If Jean is the MVP in Dark Phoenix, then Scott (Tye Sheridan) is definitely the MIP (Most Improved Player). Charles and the rest of the X-Men finally give him the respect he deserves, as his role in the team expands (after the departure of Mystique and Beast). We see the kids in the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters look to him for direction, and his love story with Jean is pivotal in determining how the Dark Phoenix story line begins and ends. Oh, and his optic blast? It’s used here more times than it was ever used in the past X-Men films combined.
Good character development for the young X-Men. From being one of Apocalypse’s four horsemen to a bona fide X-Man, Storm has come a long way. We see shades of her leadership and loyalty in Dark Phoenix, and Alexandra Shipp does an excellent portrayal of Ororo, from her partnership with Cyclops down to the African accent that Halle Berry had in X-Men (2000) but conveniently forgot about in X2 (2003). Haha. Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) holds his own as well, as he gets over the need of being told what to do and embraces the lethal power that he has.
The X-Men working as a team. In almost two decades of X-Men movies, a consistent problem has been the action scenes. It’s glorious seeing one-on-one battles (especially those involving Wolverine), but mutants, gifted as they are, should be seen working together. X-Men: Apocalypse started making mutant battles more fluid, and Dark Phoenix improved them further. Without a doubt, the space and train scenes of the film were among the best of the franchise as we get to see some of our classic X-Men heroes fighting as one unit.
Music. Hans Zimmer’s score was nothing short of perfection – adding a certain level of gravitas to each setting from the space mission scene to the final moments of Jean realizing her full Phoenix potential. Even Quicksilver’s slow-mo action scene received a more serious treatment this time around (versus using a decade-specific track a la Time In A Bottle or Sweet Dreams as in the previous X-Men films).
Relevant social commentary. The X-Men comic books have always been political. Through the X-Men, creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made a statement about how people have always been resistant to diversity–it’s hard to live in a society when you are different. In Dark Phoenix, mutants get a reprieve from being misunderstood and find themselves in the right side of the law for once–proclaimed as heroes even by the president of the United States. However, all it took were a couple of incidents, and everyone turned their backs on them again. The movie may be set in 1992, and the world we live in now tries to be more understanding, but this still applies: When you’re different, people can still like you, but all it takes is one mistake, and they’ll forget everything you’ve done for them.
References. Despite obstacles, Dark Phoenix Director/Writer Simon Kinberg tries to connect the film to past X-Men efforts. For example, the Blackbird still comes out of the basketball court, and Charles and Erik’s bromance lives on through a game of chess. Seeing Dazzler (Halston Sage) during the X-Party in the woods was a pleasant surprise, and it definitely made comic book fans giddy.
It’s hard to say goodbye to characters we’ve followed for years, but we have no choice but to let go. Now that the X-Men franchise is in Disney’s hands, we’re hopeful that the direction they take will be less complicated so their transition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be seamless. Who knows, maybe we’ll get an Avengers Vs. X-Men (AvX) adaptation in 10 years? Literally anything is possible.
Now that you’ve read what Dark Phoenix did right, check out the Beardict on what stopped Dark Phoenix from achieving greatness here.
Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox. X-Men: Dark Phoenix out now in cinemas near you!