Dark Phoenix

Dark Phoenix Review: X-Men Flame Out

Dark Phoenix

Movie Rating:


The X-Men series has felt like a bit of a misfire from the very start. Even by the convoluted standards of comic book fare, the ensemble pieces never quite managed to thread the needle between world-building and giving each member of the team time to shine. In what’s alleged to be the last of the First Class arm of the franchise, Dark Phoenix is more of a fizzle than a fiery conclusion.

For those who’ve barely paid attention, this is basically the fourth film in a sub-series that branched off from the original trilogy in an ambitious attempt at the type of multigenerational time travel storytelling that Star Trek recently undertook with slightly better results. The effect leaves audience never quite sure who’s still alive or dead between any character’s younger and older versions (e.g. James McAvoy vs. Patrick Stewart), which is distracting when events occur and one can’t quite remember which continuity this follows.

We’ve already mined the Dark Phoenix storyline before in the 2006 X-Men: The Last Stand, with another Jean Grey (then Famke Janssen). In this 2019 version, which follows directly after X-Men: Apocalypse, we see the events transpire through the lives of the new class of characters. Jean is played by Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones this time. Other returning cast members, including Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique, Michael Fassbender as Eric/Magneto, and Nicholas Hoult as Hank/Beast, inhabit their roles with increasing detachment.

Turner doesn’t waste her turn at the center of the storyline. She does well to present her character’s inner turmoil when wrestling with demons. Jessica Chastain shows up as a body-snatching alien. While her Edgar Winter-like guise and deadpan expression may serve the character on a comic book page, they come across as more boring than sinister on screen.

Once again, every member of the X-Men team has to bring their specific abilities to play, much like a generic video game, each conveniently having the right powers at the right time to solve whatever issues are at hand. By shifting the focus, otherwise grand characters like Magneto are left to sidekick status. Dark Phoenix may not be his film to shine, but given how… well, magnetic… Michael Fassbender can be, it feels like there should be more interesting things for him to do in a better organized storyline.

Jennifer Lawrence is given many of the film’s most memorable zingers. (She questions why, if it’s always the boys being rescued by the girls, the team isn’t renamed “X-Women,” which may generate hoots from general audiences.) Yet despite shape-shifting, she never quite manages to raise the character to its implied importance.

The paternalistic dynamic between Xavier and Jean has already played out several times in Xavier’s relationship with Mystique, so that feels like even more a retread. Save for the flashback and some other family dramas, little here feels like we haven’t seen it before now many times. The questions about responsibility, the dynamic between humans and mutants, and so on simply seem tired in this context.

Stuff blows up, people get whisked from room to room, and catastrophe is narrowly averted for the majority of the team. Already knowing who these people are when they get older adds to the sense of anticlimax. The same can be said for the film as a whole; it’s a culmination more than a climax, a chapter pigeonholed into a greater storyline rather than a necessary standalone work or even as a closer on this section of the narrative. In other words, Dark Phoenix simply burns away with little left but ash. It’s a forgettable chapter in a forgettable series of films that, despite some impressive casting and initial promise, never quite got its wings.


  1. Kizzle

    “The X-Men series has felt like a bit of a misfire from the very start.”

    Uh, no. The first two films were great, especially for the time. It’s what convinced people that Marvel movies could be good and set the table for everything. Blade predated it, but it’s not like that was a popular, well-known comic character.

    • Al

      Thank you! When I read the reviewer’s comment, I was thinking, “Who is this guy? Was he not born in 2000? Does he not understand that the first two X-Men films were literally the driving force behind the comic book movie takeover?!” Obviously, with the exception of ‘First Class’ perhaps, the X-Men films never quite reached that level again, but they absolutely were not a misfire, from the start. That’s just flat out preposterous!

      • Ryan

        What’s really interesting to me is the first 2 x men films were not action packed, they were dramas but damn the stories were told
        so well that the action was the icing on the cake. Logan was a step back in the right direction.

    • Julian

      Haha, came to type the EXACT same thing (had even copy-pasted the quote you started with, to start my comment with). The first two are SUPERBBBBB.

  2. Yovan Basurto

    “The X-Men series has felt like a bit of a misfire from the very start.”

    wtf. Mmmm no. Xmen 1 was good for it’s time and xmen 2 is great. Not a great way to start a review.

  3. Ryan

    Logan is the best film hands down and to me what ends the franchise officially, heck they could’ve had shown what happens to Laura next, that would have been really interesting/entertaining…maybe she starts a team of her own? Maybe she finds dead pool? Better yet keep the damn R rating…..what a waste….sad because I really am a huge X fan.

  4. Shannon Nutt

    The first two X-Men movies were great, as were First Class, Days of Future Past, and Logan.

    The bad (or not so good) ones were X-Men: Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Apocalypse and, now, Dark Phoenix.

    So the franchise still has more good movies than bad. You can’t say that about Star Wars! 😉

        • Al

          Calling Logan an X-Men movie would be like calling numerous MCU movies “Avengers movies.” Just because a comic book film acknowledges that a certain faction exists, doesn’t mean that it’s a — Insert team/ensemble/faction name here — movie. Logan is a Logan movie. It’s not an X-Men movie. End of discussion. If you want to disagree, you better start calling Ragnarok, Civil War, Iron Man 2, Thor, Winter Soldier, etc. Avengers movies.

          • I think the difference is that Iron Man, Thor, Capt. America, etc. existed as solo characters with their own individual movies and their own adventures before crossing over with each other to form the Avengers. The X-Men, on the other hand, started as a team, and the Logan movie is a sub-group breakout from that.

            Wolverine and Xavier are still both X-Men, even if the rest of the X-Men aren’t around.

          • Per this defense, does this mean that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not an “X-Men movie” simply because it doesn’t feature the X-Men? Wouldn’t the fact that has “X-Men” is the title say otherwise?

            Just because the series doesn’t have a higher name (like “MCU”), that doesn’t mean Logan is not part of the same franchise.

            This argument is silly.

          • njscorpio

            Julian – The whole time I couldn’t figure out how they were going to tie this story about lipstick to A New Hope, and it never did. Worst prequel ever.

          • EM

            My new hope is for the reappearance of the lost footage in which the Princess tells Tarkin to “kiss [her] nerfherding ass” and adds, “And your little Darth, too!” The implied kiss would have been the lipstick link—alas, it was a little much for 1977.

    • Timcharger

      Shannon, by your count, that 5 good to 4 bad; but you omitted The Wolverine in your calculation.

      Every vote counts, ya know. No electoral college system here to help the less populous states. X-Men is really about equality.

      Love for the 1st two X-Men films are a little overblown, likewise some of the hatred for the others. And some of the best acting in the whole series is Fassbender in Apocalypse. The highs from Fassbender’s performances are greater than the highs from the positively regarded films.

  5. njscorpio

    Count me as another in support of X-Men/X2/First Class/Days of Future Past/Logan…those are some very enjoyable movies. Sure, the first X-Men feels clunky by today’s standards, but nobody had gotten a comic book ensemble movie pulled off that well before. When comparing to other franchises of the same length, that are also popcorn/guilty pleasure franchises, I think overall it might be stronger than the totality of Resident Evil, Fast & Furious, the Aliens movies, or Terminator. (Yes, Aliens is better than Days of Future Past…my point is, the number of “good” entries vs “bad”).

  6. Vinnie Civitillo

    I just feel the need to join the chorus of people saying X-Men, X2, First Class and Days of Future Past are great. If we feel like counting it, and we should, Logan is a masterpiece and, for what it’s worth, the Deadpool movies are solid too (count them, or not, as you wish). I haven’t seen Dark Phoenix yet and based on how bad X3 and Apocalypse were, I’m sure it’s terrible, but if you never liked any of the movies in the series (even when they were at their best), honestly no offense intended, but are you the best choice to review this one?

  7. theHDphantom

    Not sure why X-Men: Apocalypse gets so much hate. I thought it was pretty good. I’m hoping Dark Phoenix is right on par with it.

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