The following review is based solely on the facts described in the cinematic universe as they often contradict the comics’ events and time-line.
Enough time has passed since the premiere of Dark Phoenix for the fans to watch the movie and allows us to review it with all the spoilers. Since the film has been criticized let me make clear from the very beginning I am a big fan of the movies. X-Men and Jean Grey were the reason I dyed my hair red as a teenager, so it was obvious now for me to be hyped and hopeful for this new approach to the story of the Dark Phoenix.
The first story has its impact
Let’s start with a small yet significant detail: The relation between the Phoenix and Jean Grey was already portrayed in the third film of what was thought as a trilogy, X-Men: The Last Stand. Contrary to the first two iconic movies which settled the standard of what was the reality of the Mutants world, The Last Stand went too far away from the original structure and originality, ignoring lightheartedly the critics belief in the characters ability to end every conflict in the snap of fingers. Too many pointless sacrifices and cliché behaviours made of this film a simply enjoyable superhero movie, not outstanding in any way from the rest and not carrying the originality from the previous two works by Bryan Singer.
The Drak Phoenix and Jean Grey are among the most beloved and definitely the most discussed characters from the comics and films so obviously the fans were left not satisfied at all, demanding a proper instalment of the story.
No Big Deal
But The Last Stand was no big deal, a minor inconvenience if compared to the absolute chaos created by X-Men: Days of Future Past and especially X-Men: Apocalypse (can we pretend it didn’t happen?!). In the first above mentioned movies, the change of the time-line and the events in the ’70s were a nice theme but Kitty Pride unjustified change of abilities, the sentinels and an apocalyptic future a big let down.
The producers were probably disappointed by the small amount of scenes of annihilation and decided to go for a full Apocalypse in a revisited biblical style. It’s here we are introduced to Jean Grey again, maybe 18 or 20 already (we are in the ’80s this time) who reveals her powers at the end of the film, when Professor X begs Jean to save everyone (which she does, in pain, showing the Phoenix spirit).
With all the prequels, sequels and spin-offs is difficult to keep track of the history of Jean Grey: first she was taken by Charles Xavier AND Magneto to help her parents deal with her huge power, then we have scenes in one of the Logan spin-offs where she is rescued alongside other future X-Men after being kidnapped by Striker, then we have the latest version from Dark Phoenix were she kills her mother and, refused by her father, brought by Charles to his school.
You could guess at least her powers have a linear story but here it’s even worse: the story does not change due to time-line interventions or simple reboot decisions, here the story starts to be simply incongruent within the same “trilogy”. Jean Grey was supposedly always powerful and would call herself The Phoenix during therapy sessions with Professor X (around 2000, as portrayed in The Last Stand). Time-line changes shouldn’t interfere with the innate powers or nature of a Mutant or any other person but only with the existence and order of events so we can safely assume Jean Grey keeps on being a naturally powerful Mutant in Apocalypse where she somehow, with no explanation whatsoever, is able to demolish the barriers Professor X built in her mind to let her keep control to a certain level of her power. These barriers are often mentioned in the films but are treated superficially in X-Men Apocalypse. Fine, it’s a reboot/prequel after a time-line change, we can live with that.
Now you would expect that Dark Phoenix would follow the concept shown in Apocalypse…
What could possibly go wrong – The Plot
Well, apparently 20th Century Fox decided too to pretend that X-Men Apocalypse didn’t happen, scrapping away the first unleash of Jean Grey abilities and the appearance of the Phoenix, ignoring this way also Jean’s power to demolish Professor X barriers.
So here we are, finally at the beginning of the Dark Phoenix movie, expecting something better than The Last Stand, hyped by the trailers, unaware of 20th Century Fox sudden amnesia.
The film starts with the latest version of how Jean got into Charles Xavier school and with a new concept in the Mutant’s cinematic universe: the government collaborating with the X-Men. The team is asked to fly to space to rescue the Apollo 13 crew from a solar flare but the mission gets more complicated when turns out there is still one member to bring out while the flare is quickly approaching. Jean Grey is sent abroad the Apollo and, confronted with the impossibility to get out in time, attracts the flare to herself, absorbing it entirely. Surprisingly to the X-Men, after regaining consciousness Jean feels well and carries on her everyday life. This until she starts slowly to loose control over her powers.
What is shown to the audience later suggests that this sort of solar flare is tearing apart Jean stability, making her incapable of steering her powers and supposedly helping her remember past traumatizing experiences. She runs away to find her father and learn the truth, loosing control again, killing inadvertently Mystique and then isolating herself. All of this is interrupted a couple of times with scenes of some aliens arriving on Earth with the goal to find the Phoenix Force trapped in Jean. We are reintroduced to Magneto living a quite life when Jean searches an advise on how to stop hurting people but she is tracked down, kicked out and decides to just avoid anybody.
The government decides to immediately start segregation and control over Mutants (a bit exaggerated considering there should be thousand adolescents not controlling their powers and messing up every now and then but as soon as Jean Grey does it… well, it’s a cliché movie reaction) and Professor X is ignored by the president (yes there is also the president here). Jean is then found by Vuk (alien lady played by Jessica Chastain) who persuades her to come join her friends and show her what is this cosmic power she got hit by, how it destroyed her planet and what Jean could do with it. Jean’s ego grows a bit too quickly considering her distrust toward everybody until few minutes ago but she decides to hate and destroy everyone because she is feared.
We see a battle to stop her and remind her about her empathy and goodness which finally goes. Jean asks Vuk to take the Phoenix from her but the alien is interrupted by the special forces coming to get the X-Men out of the building for the mess they’ve done.The aliens then follow the train in which the mutants are transported and attack it trying to get to Jean and absorb the rest of the energy. To shorten it: there is a battle, Professor X speaks with Jean in her mind and then she wakes up and affronts Vuk. At the end we finally, after over one hour, get to see the Phoenix in action. Sadly for like 10 minutes after which she decides to sacrifice herself for the sake of the emotional effect.
I don’t regret watching it BUT
There are two type of fans: those who care and will be the harshest critics and those who love the stories and will justify every incongruence. I belong to the second group yet you could already notice my bitterness about some parts of the movie:
- Skipping decades between every movie doesn’t help. It is nice to see a different setting but the characters are just 10 years away from the first X-Men movie where Professor X and Magneto are much older (as they should look per their age). Also Jeans Grey and Storm haven’t aged since X-Men Apocalypse. A bit of make up could be useful here.
- The aliens in the movie could work as an addition considering the origin of the Phoenix Force but they felt quite random.
- It felt too artificial for the character of Jean to loose hope and trust in the X-Men so quickly but to entirely trust an alien throwing general phrases at her.
- After all the different versions from the previous movies, is highly unclear if Jean should be considered naturally powerful or her powers driven by the Phoenix Force. In fact in this movie Jean’s character is first shown as not in control of her abilities without any visual changes in her. After getting hit by the solar flare, when loosing control, she is shown differently, still chaotic and confused but much more destructive. The scenes and the dialogues don’t help in understanding, focusing first on her past, then on the energy absorbed, then on her natural talent. During the film we know she is a threat if she decides to but we don’t know why.
- The first attempt to pass the Phoenix Force from Jean to Vuk shows Jean drained and unconscious before even finishing the process. The second attempt on the other hand shows Jean determined, indifferent to pain (if there was supposed to be any) and conscious until the very end. Is this supposed to be a metaphor about willingness and possibilities?
- Why did the aliens choose to enter the wagons at the end when it was clearly stated Vuk could locate Jean without problem avoiding the fuss with the other X-Men and special forces?
- The aliens are portrayed as hugely strong, especially their leader. At the first attempt to absorb the cosmic energy Vuk was unhurt and determined but at the end of the movie, the scene suggests that the power itself is going to kill her after all, not Jean, not anything else but absorbing the Phoenix. Are they strong or not?
- Knowing from the film that the Cosmic Force makes Jean infinitely strong and that it has the power to give life and take it away, why did Jean even had to sacrifice herself to destroy Vuk?
Overall the film does not live up to the expectations and the story of the Dark Phoenix, Jean Grey and the Cosmic Force in general seems highly, highly, wasted. I expected more background story on the Phoenix Force, more scenes focused on Jean’s powers and maybe a bit less fighting. It was still pleasant to see reference to the first films (the school visual aspect and organization of the school and underground part, the jet, the scenery) and the scene where Jean finally uses her full potential.
What are your thoughts on the film? Are you okay with all the changes made to the plot? We invite you to check also our other reviews.