By Michael Sangiacomo
Dark Phoenix was the subject of so much trash talk in the years before it was released that overcoming such low expectations was pretty easy.
That being said, the last gasp of the Twentieth Century Fox version of the X-Men franchise (soon to be reborn under the auspices of the Marvel Cinematic Universe) is better than expected. I give it a B.
It’s no Avengers: Endgame, and it certainly could have been a stronger exit, but as a follow-up to X-Men: Apocalypse it checks all the boxes.
The X-Men franchise has been so uneven under Fox, so contradictory, that it’s best to consider each film as a separate entity. Dark Phoenix, loosely (very loosely) based on the comic work of John Byrne, Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum, is a pretty brutal film.
Most of the cast from Apocalypse returns as the mighty mutants find themselves heroes in this Avengers-less Earth. Everyone loves the X-Men, which is a clear signal that everything is about to change.
It won’t give anything away to say that Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is transformed into a being with an enormous power that is slowly corrupting her. Her friends are tasked with trying to save her, or at least rein her in, which is easier said than done.
Toss in a nasty group of aliens bent on stealing the Phoenix power and you have a movie.
Turner is convincing as a young woman trying to stay in control as cosmic forces tear through her. It’s literally right there on her face, as she grits her teeth and grimaces her way through the film.
Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) are equally up to the task, renewing their friend/enemy relationship.
I would have like to have seen more of Quicksilver (Evan Peters) in action, considering how cool he was seen in previous films, but his brief appearances were well done.
The rest of the large cast jockeys for position, showing off their powers in various levels of effectiveness. Nightcrawler (Kodi Smith-McPhee) obviously put more time training in the Danger Room than anyone else while the Beast (Nicholas Hoult) comes in a close second.
The flaw in the movie lies with Professor X’s seeming inability to come up with any kind of a plan to handle the Phoenix situation, other than trying to convince Jean to reassert herself. His efforts seemed too little, too late.
According to interviews, the ending was rewritten from taking place in outer space as it did in the comics, to taking place on a train. While the climactic battle is well-done, though rather long, fans will doubtless miss the famous comic ending on the moon.
If the yardstick here is to compare the film to the comic history, it will come up way short. Better to consider the film on its own terms, kind of like a “What If…” story.
Michael Sangiacomo, who bought the first issue of the X-Men of the newsstand, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.