Despite offering some glimpses of intrigue, Dark Phoenix is ultimately another failed attempt to bring the beloved ‘Dark Phoenix Saga’ storyline to the big screen.
The movie’s prologue introduces us to a very young Jean Grey, whose fledgling mutant powers of telepathy and telekinesis accidentally kill her parents in a car crash and is taken in by Professor X (James McAvoy). Flash forward to 1992, and Jean is hit with a cosmic force when the X-Men are out in space on a rescue mission, and she becomes a lot more powerful and sinister. While this backstory is faithful to the comics, it does nullify the events of X-Men: Apocalypse which hinted that Jean already had the power of the Phoenix Force within her.
The reason why the ‘Dark Phoenix Saga’ is so beloved in comic lore is because Jean getting corrupted by the Phoenix Force is both tragic and impactful, as we were emotionally invested in her character and have seen her as an integral part of the X-Men for so long. In this latest live-action adaptation, Sophie Turner’s Jean is not that very well known, either by the audience or by the rest of the X-Men. So, when she starts hurting people, including her fellow X-Men, the fallout within the team doesn’t feel personal. When her actions fracture the mutants into two groups – one group that thinks Jean needs to be put down and the other that wants to save her – it feels rushed and forced, particularly the confrontation between Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and the Professor.
Sophie Turner admirably plays the required shades of Grey her character demands, but it is so thinly sketched that the tragedy of her downfall doesn’t carry any weight. Barring Charles, none of the regular cast is given a chance to explore their characters further. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) gets a few badass action sequences but is ultimately wasted as is Jessica Chastain, who plays a vague alien-villain whose sole purpose is to give the X-Men someone to unite against in the final battle. To the movie’s credit, Dark Phoenix does offer some glimpses of intrigue in the first half, but flames out rather predictably into a dull, CGI-laden final arc. Part of the problem probably lies with the studio’s last-minute reshoots to differentiate it from ‘another recent superhero movie’ (most definitely Captain Marvel), which impact the movie’s latter half, as the pacing grows more and more erratic.
The X-Men franchise, which was launched in 2000, helped usher in the golden age of superhero movies. But after 12 installments spread over two decades, the franchise can only sputter and stumble toward its close in Dark Phoenix.