The “X-Men” movies have been around since the beginning of the superhero movie boom. “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” is the last of these films after a near 20 year run — unless you count “New Mutants,” which has been pushed back almost a full two years. Despite having riveting action, the movie’s rushed plot and mediocre drama fail to do the classic “Dark Phoenix” storyline justice again while doing a better job than “X-Men: The Last Stand.”
The story begins with the X-Men answering the President’s request to rescue the crew of a damaged NASA shuttle. During the mission, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is hit by what all assume to be a solar flare, miraculously surviving it. Soon after, Grey’s powers begin to flare up and harm people, including Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan). Along with this power boost are problems for Professor X (James McAvoy) as Grey becomes emotionally unstable, since he’s unable to block out traumatic events from her past any longer.
The plot has no major twists or surprises to captivate the audience. Everything flows in an orderly manner with plenty of drama. Despite the solid flow of people arguing about Jean between her destructive bouts, it falls apart toward the end. Occasionally, characters have a sudden, inexplicable change of heart, causing them to switch their attitudes and arguments surrounding Grey.
While there’s some action, most of it’s saved for the end. The action scenes, while scarce, keep the film alive with great visuals and an amazing display of each mutant's skills as they fight to save Grey. An expert display of skills shows that each X-Man and their villains still have plenty of tricks to keep fights fresh despite using many of the same characters throughout the franchise. The film would’ve strongly benefited from one or two more skirmishes or at least slightly extending the few fights there were.
The public view of the X-Men undergoes an interesting evolution throughout the movie. At first, the X-Men are viewed as heroes by the public as people cheer them on after the NASA rescue. Secrecy of the X-Men from previous films seems to have gone away as the students at the school for gifted youngsters know the X-Men live there, and some members don’t use code names during missions. This fame seems to go to Professor X’s head, upsetting Raven as she views him as shirking his responsibility as a leader. By only helping humans, his actions are hypocritical to his original path to help mutantkind through the completion of missions that would make good public relations.
Although Grey is meant to be an intimidating villain with the mysterious alien Vuk (Jessica Chastain) pushing her along, only Vuk and her fellow D’Bari aliens are legitimate antagonists. Grey is never truly evil as she’s advertised but rather has emotional outbursts that crank up her powers to incredible proportions. Grey’s vulnerability gives an interesting opportunity for Vuk, who wishes to use the Phoenix for her race’s own needs after it destroyed the D’Bari’s home world. Sadly, Vuk is hardly around and only occasionally tries to push Grey to commit evil deeds when she gets out of control, but doesn’t feel as important as she’s clearly meant to be for the story.
For a movie meant to be centered around Jean Grey, much of the focus is put on how others react to her new power. Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) decides to work with Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to kill Grey after she severely hurts Raven in a fight and puts mutants back into a negative spotlight. Most others wish to help Grey adapt to her powers and convince Professor X that blocking her memories was an immoral move. After getting past the mental barriers, she flares up more often upon seeing him further complicating the situation .
“X-Men: Dark Phoenix” tries to up the stakes but fails to stay cohesive all the way through. With a weak, somewhat open ending to the franchise due to the Fox/Disney merger forcing it to change, the movie misses the mark on the classic storyline once more. With the X-Men now going back to Marvel, hopefully the time is taken to look over the franchise and realize what did and didn’t work to avoid making the same mistakes in “Dark Phoenix.”
Contact Caleb Barbachem at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.