I’m loath to say that X-men: Days of Future Past is one of my absolute favorite X-men films, solely because it was directed by Bryan Singer. I guess it’s satisfying to think that everything went downhill from there, with X-men: Apocalypse signaling the beginning of a hard decline. Dark Phoenix follows suit, leading to yet another hugely unsatisfying stab at the Dark Phoenix arc.
For those who may not know, this film is based on the Dark Phoenix comic arc, widely considered to be a classic. Basically, Jean Grey gets exposed to a solar flare that unleashes her ability’s full potential, making her one of the most powerful beings in the universe, the Phoenix. After a while, the power becomes too much, and she turns into the Dark Phoenix, an unstoppable force of death and destruction. TL;DR, just give this a watch.
Bringing this to the silver screen has already proven next to impossible. X-2: X-men United started to tap into the storyline, with Jean kind of becoming the Phoenix at the very end. Then came X-men: The Last Stand, and it all went to hell in a flaming ball of fire. It was a disaster.
Dark Phoenix commits similar sins.
To start, the internal logic of the film is all over the place, specifically in how it connects to its predecessors. First Class, for instance, is set in 1962, making Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) 32 years old (he was born in 1930). By now, he should be 62 years old, yet he looks exactly the same. The same thing goes for Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), born the same year, and Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) who was born in 1940. They should all be in their late 50’s, early 60’s. With the exception of Raven/Mystique, we should be seeing the effects of time on all of them, and yet they don’t look a day over 40 – or in Hoult’s case, 29.
Am I nit-picking? Totally. But for a franchise this huge that’s been so successful in the past, we should be holding these entries to higher standards than what we’re given. Their lack of attention to detail makes the end result feel phoned in.
And speaking of holding them to higher standards, the women in this film are all reduced to platitude-spouting balls of uncontrollable emotion. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has gone from one of the strongest characters in the franchise to the woman who angrily says to Xavier “the women keep doing all the work around here, you should change the name to X-women!” before she storms out of the room. (I’m paraphrasing because I was so mad I didn’t write it down immediately).
Then we have Jean (Sophie Turner), the doe-eyed little girl with all the gifts who only wants to mack on her boyfriend. She spends the majority of the film crying. This was their big play to make her seem out of control; make her cry a lot and then lose her shit. Cool. You’ve reduced the most powerful being in the universe to little more than the hugely problematic stereotype of an overly emotional woman who can’t function normally because of all of the feels.
There’s so little to say about Jessica Chastain’s role in this film. She’s a genderless alien who assumed the form of this random woman – Chastain was a housewife at a dinner party before she went all robotic. She then spends the entire film lecturing Jean about how she’s always been a pawn for men to manipulate, conforming to their expectations of women’s strength and power. This was her big ploy to get Jean to give up the power so she and her people can destroy Earth and form their own planet.
And then there’s Storm (Alexandra Shipp). Once again, she’s given barely anything to do, and anything to say. I’m with Shipp on this one and support her completely. Storm was supposed to be a badass. As a child in Cairo, she was worshiped as a goddess. But in every film, unfortunately even the Halle Berry days, she was reduced to a near tertiary character. She is a literal force of nature, but in Dark Phoenix, she feels simple and flat. Ororo deserves better. So do her fans, and so does Shipp and any actress who plays her.
It’s hard to even say this flick is a good time. Watching Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) finally lose control was a thing of beauty, but it was far too little too late. They completely misused Quick Silver (Evan Peters) again, and, I’m sorry, but Magneto’s running a kibbutz now? Maybe that’s how he still looks 42 – all those freshly grown vegetables.
Factoring in the poor writing, what we’re left with is a series of platitudes and buzzwords written by men to try and shoehorn Dark Phoenix into the canon of feminist superhero films. At this it fails worst of all, cheapening the notion of female empowerment for the sake of cashing in on something that, to them, just seems like a trend. Given that the main cast is almost half women, they really should have let one or two into the writers room.
At the end of the day, this felt phoned in and underwhelming. Despite every actor in the film being misused and poorly directed, some of them truly worked their asses off. Others phoned it in, and I don’t blame them. Dark Phoenix is a huge misstep in the franchise. Hopefully the merger with Fox will allow Marvel to regain control of their property, so they can revisit the franchise and do it right.