Dark Phoenix takes a grounded, darker and streamlined approach to the classic story and wraps up the First Class Saga in a unique and fulfilling way.
Dark Phoenix stars the longtime cast of James McAvoy as Professor Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr, Jennifer Lawrence Raven, Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy and Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers. Directed by Simon Kinberg and distributed by 20th Century Fox/Disney, Dark Phoenix is the finale of the X-Men Saga and the closing chapter to the First Class arc. Retelling the classic Dark Phoenix story, the film focusses on Jean Grey and her struggle with the Phoenix Force. Darker than its predecessor, Dark Phoenix takes a more down to earth approach to the dense storyline. Purposely a lot less dramatic than The Last Stand but also flashier than X-Men First Class, Dark Phoenix clearly was aiming to operate with a specific tone and voice unique to the franchise thus far. Unfortunately, reshoots, and leaving a lot on the cutting room floor did not let the film fully breathe into becoming one of the stronger entries into the X-Men saga. Regardless of that, the film still brought a lot positives and will give fans of the franchise a lot to feel satisfied with.
Dark Phoenix is chiefly carried by Sophie Turner. Her performances, alongside Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy prove to be the highlight in the longstanding series. The film shows the fallout and hubris that years of success or failure can lead to. After the events of First Class, Days of Future Past and Apocalypse, both Xavier and Lehnsherr are in different stages of their life. One, Professor X, is at the hight of his powers. The world loves the X-Men and the fear of mutant kind is a far cry from when it once was. Because of this, Xavier is proud, his ego and his unwillingness to budge hurt the team in many instances. On the flip side, Magneto has established a version of Genosha for mutants to live in without fear of the rest of humanity and has grown considerably over the years. The way both of these characters interact with the death of their longtime friend Raven, and how they each want to handle the destructive force of Jean Grey provide some of the best moments of the film.
Speaking of Jean Grey, Sophie Turner absolutely owns the role of Jean Grey. Her performance throughout was strong and lines up well in a year where Captain Marvel, Alita, and Star Wars all have women leading their respective films. Jean Grey was the most three dimensional character Dark Phoenix offered due to the shortened run time and reshot third act. Her fall from grace and struggle with accepting or rejecting the Phoenix Force that lives within her is a strong element of the film. Taking a very grounded approach to the story and the plot, the film closely follows her perspective and thoughts as the Phoenix force slowly drives her mad. All this is amplified by Hans Zimmer’s score and solid visual effects, which elevated the action sequences, and moments of drama.
The Dark Phoenix story has now been done twice on film within the same larger cinematic universe. The first with X-Men: The Last Stand, and now once again with Dark Phoenix. When comparing the two, the second film surpassed its retconned predecessor. While the lack of Wolverine or the wider cast of X-Men provide the primary difference, Dark Phoenix takes an extremely grounded approach, with a street level feel and a clear inspiration to follow the track Logan had built. While nowhere near as perfect as 2017’s Logan, the timeline finale of the X-Men saga, Dark Phoenix does a solid job being serious, dark and being a great change of pace for the superhero genre, which has mostly become popcorn fun for the family.
It is worth pointing out where Dark Phoenix stands in the wider spectrum. With Disney’s accusation of Fox and the X-Men franchise, Dark Phoenix is the finale of a series that began in 2000. It is interesting to note that the MCU would never have existed without Fox’s X-Men paving the way, and now that same franchise is being enveloped into the MCU. Personally speaking, I would love to see Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy transfer over to the MCU much like Ryan Reynolds will with Deadpool, but the feeling is that the X-Men will be fully rebooted when their next incarnation appears.
Overall, Dark Phoenix is a solid finale to the First Class Saga. While obvious reshoots and trimming down of the film made it feel rushed, particularly in the third act, the film will still please longtime fans of the X-Men film saga. Not as spectacular as Logan or X-Men: Days of Future Past and not as underwhelming as X-Men: Apocalypse or X-Men: The Last Stand, Dark Phoenix finds itself somewhere in between as it closes the book on a 19 year franchise.
A darker tone, grounded focus, strong acting from the leads, and keen sense of drama between established characters amplify Dark Phoenix‘s great moments. While a longer runtime, a stronger third act and a fleshed out villain would have definitely elevated it to the top echelon of X-Men films, Dark Phoenix still manages to honor the long running franchise and provide a solid lynchpin to the X-Men saga.