It’s time to bid farewell to the X-Men saga we once knew since 2000. Surviving for almost two decades, the franchise has gone through ups (X-Men, X2, X-Men: First Class, Days of Future Past) and downs (X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: Apocalypse). When it’s high, it’s soaring high, setting the bar high for other comic book movies; but, when it’s down, it’s down low. The mutant saga, known for its serious allegory to the marginalized people living in this harsh world, deserves an, at least, meaningful closure. It’s sad that for the final showdown (to mark the end of the Fox era before the possible Disney-fueled reincarnation), X-Men is inclined to wrap it moderately with Dark Phoenix a.k.a. a missing chance.
Helmed by long-time X-Men screenwriter, Simon Kinberg (who also worked for other superhero assemble, the trainwreck Fantastic Four), in his directorial debut, Dark Phoenix presents one of the most crucial story arcs in X-Men’s history about the coalescence of the psychokinetic mutant, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), with the celestial Phoenix Force. While the coalescence upgrades her ability, it also breaches the mental barrier which Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) built to help her overcoming her childhood trauma. In the process, the colossal force contained by unstable mind instead awakens the titular Dark Phoenix, who becomes a lethal threat to every mutant, every human, good or bad, alike.
This is not the first time The Dark Phoenix makes an appearance in an X-Men movie; and this is certainly not the first time that the titular character could not live up the expectation—given its longtime reputation as one of the most overpowered beings in the universe of Marvel comic books. Even in the recent ‘Thanos’ comics (2016 – 2018), Thane—son of Thanos—borrows the power of the colossal beings to battle his own father. In the comic books, there’s only minuscule numbers of beings which are stronger than the Phoenix Force and Thanos, even when equipped with the Infinty Gauntlet as in Infinity War, isn’t one of them. By any means, Dark Phoenix should have given an arc the size of Thanos’ arc; but, X-Men franchise is never known for such grandiosity.
Dark Phoenix streams the narrative safely enough, yet blandly enough to give the impressions that the movie has no stake at all. There’s a string of interesting dynamics to craft character-driven drama between McAvoy’s Xavier, Turner’s Jean Grey and Michael Fassbender’s Erik Lehnsherr a.k.a. Magneto. And yet, nobody really cares about the drama. Xavier once again enters dickhead mode, probing confrontation against Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven and Nicholas Hoult’s Hank. Magneto has an enticing character twist as a leader of hippie mutant community. The newly overpowered Jean Grey bursts in several episodes as if another puberty strikes her hard, tying Xavier’s crumbling X-Men and Magneto’s hippie commune together in a war against an alien species led by Jessica Chastain’s pale monster. Sounds like an over-crowded party? Yes, apparently Kinberg makes the same mistake as in X-Men: The Last Stand, his first X-Men participation, which apparently centers on the Dark Phoenix incarnation as well.
As a director, Kinberg is quite adept in crafting small spectacles exploiting the mutants’ abilities. The showdown at Jean’s childhood home is quite inventive, rediscovering the overused Quicksilver’s (Evan Peter) bullet-dodging ability and Nightcrawler’s (Kodi Smidt-McPhee) ever-amusing teleportation. When it comes to grand spectacles, Dark Phoenix barely has any. The first X-Men’s extra-terrestrial tenure does not appear grandiose at all; and the final battle is barely a spectacle. Given the scale of last three X-Men movies, Dark Phoenix is pale in comparison.
Thankfully, Dark Phoenix is not the trainwreck people keep bragging about. It’s just a purpose-less, risk-less, incoherent comic book movie without big spectacles. It’s, however, sad to finally bid the farewell to one of the most pioneering comic book adaptations with such notion.