Defending Dark Phoenix

So, you thought Dark Phoenix wasn’t worth seeing? Well, who is to blame you. The reviews were apathetic to gleefully negative. It was supposed to come out how many time now? Everyone knows Marvel is going to reboot these mutants to fold the newly acquired Fox property into the MCU. It’s the series by Bryan Singer, by all accounts an awful dude. The last one was barely passable as ok; at best. It was saddled with the dreaded reshoots label, instead of the more acceptable additional shooting. The timeline makes not so much sense.

I get it.

But Dark Phoenix is a borderline great entry into the X-Men franchise and I wish we would have gotten more with this cast.

And maybe we will? I can’t imagine Disney is disappointed with the roster of actors it has at its disposal with this First Class grown group, but I’m not holding my breath. So that’s why I’m glad we got this movie, Dark Phoenix, and it is easily in my top 5 of the 12 X-Men-verse films we’ve gotten.

***Spoilers For Dark Phoenix and all X-Men Films***

Dark Phoenix is a straight faced look at how someone might cope with an unstoppable cosmic force absorbed inside them, unlocking the past trauma’s your adoptive father has walled inside your mind. Sounds like a crazy comic book story, I know, but what kind of movie is this again? Sophie Turner is the star of this film as the titular Phoenix, reprising her role as Jean Grey, and she is pretty great? She carries herself so well as a woman on the edge of exploding at a moments notice, but not without good reason. She is the problem we are trying to solve/steal/subdue in this film, and I really enjoyed watching her turn to every corner she can find to try and make things right.

The film’s secondary antagonist is played by Jessica Chastain, as an underdeveloped manipulator and pursuer of Grey, but the threat she and her people (the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull inter-dimensional beings?) pose to the planet plays out right enough that they are fun foils for the third act mayhem that unfolds. Chastain deserves better, but she leans into the weird and delivers important sounding monologues against Turner to good enough effect.

The most interesting wrinkle to the movie is how Charles Xavier plays into all of this, and the way Raven calls him out on his shit. Cocky and bullheaded, Xavier is letting the success of the X-Men cloud his judgement and disregard his X-Men’s concerns, and it’s the most interesting thing they have done with the character outside the Alzheimer’s version in Logan. McAvoy leans into the smugness just the right amount to make it believable, both that he might have lost his way and that he comes back to earth so quickly. I really enjoyed the bullshit detector that Jennifer Lawrence as Raven becomes with him and how the fallout of her death rocks everyone that was closer to him. The film knows how much and who cared for her over these last four films, and I bought into how everyone reacts to it, especially Magneto and Beast. Yes, their anguish is a bit surface level, but it works to get everyone from point A to point B, allowing everyone to get a bit of a different motivation in these films they didn’t have yet.

All in all, through the first 2/3’s of this film, we got a straightforward X-Men movie without Wolverine. First Class is the better option of the two, but Dark Phoenix makes the most of its cast and gives everyone some new shades to play. The final set pieces take this up to borderline great material, as the fight against Chastain and her alien friends on a train is a compelling and impressive looking showcase for all of the players in this X-Men film. Watching everyone work together, the action pouring in and outside of the train, moving from car to car, and getting surprisingly violent at times, I wasn’t prepared for how impressive this sequence would be. The cherry on top is watching Jean go full blown over powered with her Phoenix energy, dusting her opponents into beautiful, slow motion, puffs. It takes the film up a notch. It is a great culmination of this story, and gives Jean the space to take her decisions into her own hands, as she’d been fighting her inner turmoil the whole film.

Now, does Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy playing sixty year old men in this film make sense? No. Do I wish Magneto had a bit more to do? Sure, but he’s great once he’s there. Could the film used some humor? Definitely. But the way people lined up to name this film an unmitigated disaster feels like it never had a chance with them in the first place.

My point is, if you are a fan of the franchise, I think this is a fitting send off if this crew isn’t folded into the MCU. No matter what Disney does with the cast, this will be the last version of this type of X-Men movie going forward. Dark Phoenix wasn’t trying to be just like Marvel, something this universe has never really strived for, and I think that’s to be appreciated, in a few years we might find ourselves with only one type of superhero movie, whether it is from Marvel or D.C., and the lack of someone trying something different will hopefully let some people discover the quality stuff they missed in the franchise that never performed to the genre’s “potential”.

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