To start here is the order of my readings of my Phoenix Saga retellings. My first exposure to the Phoenix Saga was the 90s X-Men cartoon which is standard for most people my age. Next was the reading of the actual comics that is the source material for what X-men adaptions can’t seem to avoid. It occurred in two parts from Uncanny X-men 100 to 109. I’d recommend that to anyone that wants to read one of the more iconic stories in comic book history and so influential it’s become the basic go to X-men story for screenwriters. My order is 90s cartoon, comic books, X-men: Last Stand and then this year’s X-men offering Dark Phoenix.
My bias is that I have never thought the Phoenix Saga was a very good story. I think Jean Grey is a boring character and giving her omega level power felt like a reach to me. It felt like Chris Claremont wanted to boost Jean’s profile but it was done in a lazy way. With the flip of a plot device a more interesting character like Storm (or anyone else) could have taken on the Phoenix force. That’s assuming Phoenix force is even a worthwhile character, power or concept (it’s not).
The current climate tends to pound a single idea on top of us and currently X-men: Dark Phoenix is rated the worst of all X-men films on Rotten Tomatoes. This is a case where the gap between critics and audience is wide with the critics panning it almost across the board and the audience, not loving it, but giving the movie a 63% as of the publishing of this review. For a critics perspective the film was very poor. Acting was dry, the story was predictable and the villains (both of them power and alien race) were probably the most cardboard cutout unsurprising parts of any comic book movie I’ve seen.
I see where the audience is coming from. It’s real end of an era. Avengers: Endgame felt like that, but then we still know the MCU was going to continue. The X-men franchise is over. It’s done. It will never come back (we’re all saying that but what about New Mutants?). If you don’t analyze it to its smallest details then what you have is an action movie with cool special effects. That’s all some people want.
To me walking into a comic book movie is like opening a comic book. I don’t freak out if a comic isn’t that great. I just give my opinion on the internet and then forget about it. I like comics so I read them. I like superhero movies so I go and watch them. Dark Phoenix is movie I’m going to forget (you know after I give my opinion on the internet). That’s the worst judgement I can place on a film.
That’s in part because the movie is forgettable and also because of those above biases that I don’t think the Phoenix Saga is a good concept to begin with. Now that it’s been adapted so many times, I’d love to see if Kevin Feige could make it work, for sport. But now that it’s been done (and done and done and done) I doubt the MCU goes the Phoenix Force route when the MCU is ready to introduce mutants to their mythology.
That’s as nice as I can be about this film. Jean Grey is a boring character and Sophie Turner is getting credit for her role in certain circles but I didn’t see it. There wasn’t anything wrong but I didn’t see any moments in the movie that made me love her like her role in Game of Thrones. The new character arc for Professor X was troubling to me. A Professor X that starts getting knee deep in fame and fortune. Maybe that happened in the comics and I don’t remember or missed it. It never sat right that he was going down a path that lacked any wisdom.
Beast’s arc was also underdeveloped. I can see Beast logically deciding someone needed to die or making a bad decision based on the information he has in front of him. There wasn’t anytime given to his character to make that feel like an unforced decision.
We’ve forgotten how hard it is to create a team superhero movie. We’ve gotten spoiled with how well the MCU has done it with the Avengers (even the Defenders was serviceable). Dark Phoenix doesn’t even come close to being an effective team film. The effect was every performance felt flat or mediocre and never gave the actors any chance to shine. The fight scenes were good but there were only two (arguably one with a break). The action wasn’t all that action packed. The space rescue scene or the scene in front of Jean Grey’s father’s house didn’t have a great effect, even with a big death in the scene.
ALSO THE MOST ENTERTAINING CHARACTER IN THE UNIVERSE, QUICKSILVER, WAS PUT OUT OF COMMISSION ALMOST IMMEDIATELY!
The film is serviceable but isn’t good enough when you’re making films in the most popular film genre. It’s the kind of movie would have garnered a slightly better review if it came out ten years ago. We know the potential of these characters and the potential of comic characters in a cinematic setting. Dark Phoenix doesn’t live up to that potential or these new standards.