Robert Jordan began and ended almost all of his iconic Wheel of Time novels with the words, “It wasn’t the beginning. But it was a beginning.” In a similar vein, one could say of Fox’s latest X-Men movie, like unto Logan before it, and possibly New Mutants after it (if they ever release that one), “It wasn’t the ending. But it was an ending.” That holds especially true in regards to the transition of the entire franchise between studios. The movie itself comments on that, to the effect of, “This isn’t the end, but a new beginning.”
Dark Phoenix is… well, it’s alright.
Logan was a much better capstone, and, really, a better movie. Dark Phoenix was certainly an improvement over First Class, Last Stand, and the other Wolverine movies. It was also a step down from X2, more in the caliber of Days of Future Past or Apocalypse, yet somehow a bit more lackluster than either, no matter the CGI involved. For all that it delved deeply into the characters of Jean Grey and her mentor, Professor X, and had some good action sequences, it suffers from an overall by-the-numbers texture.
The story is, basically, Jean gets exposed to this almighty cosmic force that increases her power exponentially but shatters her self-control. She uncovers some truths that were kept from her, and her loss of control has devastating consequences. Some mutants want to kill her, others want to save her, some brand new aliens (who were probably meant to be Skrulls, a classic X-Men enemy) enter the fray intent on controlling the power within Jean, to devastating purpose, and the humans generally want to beat everyone else and end up getting in the way. Eventually, Jean gains control and evolves into the Phoenix. And… that’s it.
Now, it does tell a very emotional tale, no doubt about that. There are significant, important things which happen, things that can’t just be swept under the rug. And the actors generally portray their characters, their emotions and their choices, very well. Sophie Turner is especially great in the lead role. James McAvoy also does well as Professor X, but, really, Professor X was also very annoying and egotistical this time around, until he finally ate the humble pie he was being served. Each of the supporting cast did phenomenally as well, as the line between friend and enemy blurred in very human ways.
The fights, also, were exceptionally well done. Indeed, these might be the best, most intelligent, and best-choreographed fights I’ve yet seen in the franchise. It was unusual, for instance, and fantastic, to see Professor X actually involved in the fighting in his way. That is a rare thing, and a good step for his development in this movie. The lineup on opposing sides were well-matched and they fought well, instead of, say, pitting a handful against a hundred and calling it good.
Oh, and the effects were amazing.
Yet, for what might have been a thrilling action drama, it fell short. It centered on the most important people, and those were the only ones who were really important. The humans, especially the soldiers? Red shirts, quickly disposed of. (and how did that one that Nightcrawler tried to save get hurt? I didn’t see how that happened) The new mutants of Magneto’s brotherhood? Same thing. (just when we were starting to like them, and, of course, they went from enemy to friend in a heartbeat) The aliens? Ditto. Which would leave the mutants standing alone in the middle of a bunch of ruin, and somehow things just go back to normal?
It had bad things happen just because. It had good things happen just because. It had Professor X make a calamitous error just because. It had things going well, despite the events of Apocalypse just because. It had an instantaneous turn-around after one single incident just because, and then things worked out just because.
Inciting incident, things seem good, they go bad, they go really bad, complications are introduced right on cue, the protagonist rebels against authority and is seduced by an enemy in disguise, then she pretty much just snaps out of it and becomes a godlike being all at once, and all the main characters live, except one heroic sacrifice earlier on, while everyone else involved dies. And it all feels very by the numbers. Nothing really remarkable.
Did I like it? Yeah. Did I enjoy it? Yes. It was good. Just not really great, which we know this franchise is fully capable of.
Ah, well, at least now it’s going into the hands of Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige. It’ll be a few years, and there’s no telling how they’ll do it, but we’re all looking forward to the entrance of mutants into the MCU! 🙂
As for Dark Phoenix: it tried to do something great, and it did some good things with characters and action, but the plot and themes and such were all just normal. Even the music was like the movie around it: good, but predictable.
Rating: 7 stars out of 10.