Whelp, at least they tried.
What seems to be the final X-Men movie before Disney gets their hands on the franchise to eventually induct it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (unless that delayed New Mutants movie finds its way to Hulu), Dark Phoenix takes place in the early 90s and follows a young X-Men squad consisting of Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Raven aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), as they make their first journey into space and encounter a mysterious and powerful cosmic entity known as the Phoenix Force. After a heroic attempt at saving a damaged space shuttle and the stranded crew inside, Jean accidentally absorbs the essence of the Phoenix and is immediately changed for the worse. With her telekinetic and telepathic powers spiking to unheard of levels as well as the terrifying fact that Jean may not be able to keep her wits about her in order to control the influx of this dangerous energy, it’s up to the X-Men – led by the ever hopeful Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) – to save her before her new powers corrupt her very being and in turn, the world around her.
First things first: this isn’t a particularly good movie, but it’s an X-Men movie, so it’s got that going for it at least. Over the years since the original movie premiered in 2000, this franchise has seen so many ups and downs, sideways and diagonal movements that it’s hard to track which movie is worth watching, which make no sense, and which should never have seen the light of day to begin with. In the case of Dark Phoenix, this one sits more in the middle of what has come before rather than trying anything new or risky with the franchise, a move that makes this film more of the same and completely watchable (and sometimes enjoyable) even if the overall experience is middling.
When it comes to the story, the less said the better. Not only does this film fly in the face of what has happened in previous films (Jean apparently had the Phoenix inside of her already in X-Men: Apocalypse for example), but it’s central “villains” in the alien race known as the D’Bari (???) are the most cookie cutter, shoehorned in and unimportant aspect of this entire film. Part of me wishes that the Dark Phoenix element of the script was used as the only conflict in the story mostly because these D’Bari jokers – while stemming from the comics – are a complete after thought in the grand scheme of things and quite honestly take away from the idea that one of the X-Men’s own is slowly becoming an evil that cannot be contained. It all adds up to a film that seems to know what it wants to do, but doesn’t seem to care enough to put in the work to get there.
Other than the fact that Jennifer Lawrence seems to be entirely over the role of Mystique at this point (and has been for a while apparently), the script moves a lot of other seemingly important characters out of the plot (Quicksilver), or in the way of the plot (Magneto), just to say they were in this film. None of what happens on screen is organic or serviceable in the grand scheme of the story and none of what we see seems to matter much when it comes down to telling the story of Jean’s fall from grace. Sure, there’s a handful of relatively exiting action beats and VFX driven superhero shenanigans that link back to her breaking bad, but a lot of what happens just seems ancillary to what this story is trying to tell, and for that, this film stumbles more than it should.
Hardly well executed or even competently made, Dark Phoenix is just shy of being a complete train wreck ala X-Men: The Last Stand, and lands safely in the middle of the long and uneven trajectory this franchise has taken over the years to become a film that is completely forgettable yet oddly entertaining in its own right. Unfortunately, nothing about this movie is the X-Men film we needed nor wanted after all of this time, but it’s the best we were going to get considering the direction this franchise was heading after the less than stellar X-Men: Apocalypse and the acquisition of 20thCentury Fox by Disney, which as mentioned before, will eventually bring our favorite mutants to the MCU. I didn’t outright hate this film, but by the time I left the theater I was most definitely underwhelmed yet hopeful for the future of our favorite mutants. If nothing else, this is still an X-Men movie and that counts for something.