X-Men was my gateway into the Marvel Universe, starting with the amazing 1990’s animated series and the ridiculously cool toys it inspired. It’s easy to forget that the 2000 film inspired a new era of superhero movies that has included no less than three reboots of Spider-Man. You could argue that X-Men has been rebooted in a way due to some very confusing timelines and inconsistencies across the twelve films that lead up to their latest adventure, Dark Phoenix, but it’s more or less been the same timeline that spans several decades.
The inherent problem at this point is that the franchise has pretty much exhausted or made poor use of some of the best storylines from the comics. Dark Phoenix itself was already wasted in X-Men: The Last Stand, one of the franchises lowest points. And while this version of it does a better job of adapting the comic’s story arc to the screen, it also manages to muddle everything up in the process.
Dark Phoenix is far from the worst filmin the franchise, which still belongs to X-Men 0rigins: Wolverine, X-Men: Apocalypse, and the aforementioned X-Men: The Last Stand. But it doesn’t rank much higher than those films either, which is a shame because fan enthusiasm for this story arc has always been strong and it deserves a better adaptation.
The film starts off strong, with some intriguing backstory on Jean Grey’s childhood and how she became a student of Professor X. Set in 1992, Jean and the X-Men are called to action to rescue some stranded astronauts about to be destroyed by what they believe to be a solar flare. But When Jean Grey gets too close to the dark matter, it absorbs into her and gives her an untamable power that she can’t control.
Despite a gripping opening, the film begins to dwindle when the villains are introduced. The X-Men film series has always stood apart from the MCU, but the shape-shifting aliens feel too much like a cross between the Kree and Chitauri. In this story, they’re unoriginal and not even Jessica Chastain can prevent the inevitable comparison.
X-Men: Days of Future Past confusingly reset the timeline for the X-Men: First Class characters and another reason Dark Phoenix becomes hard to watch is that it kills off and re-introduces characters previously included in the series, doing so in ways that contradict the first trilogy. This film also takes place just eight years away from the events of the first film, yet James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender look decades away from becoming Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellan. This story could’ve been told in any year, so why 1992? (Which is the year the animated series began.)
The prequel films have always had fun with the eras they’re set in, particularly the 1970’s in X-Men: First Class and 1980’s in X-Men: Days of Future Past. But Dark Phoenix does nothing with the 1990’s other than tell you the year upfront. In fact, it fails to have fun with the material at all, offering no comedic relief and settling for a consistently moody tone that wears thin fast.
While Dark Phoenix is a bit of a disappointment, fans of the series should still check it out. It’s far from the worst in the franchise, but it’s guaranteed to be nobody’s favorite. X-Men has always had some of the coolest female superheroes in all of comic book history, so it’s a real shame that the first female centric film in the franchise is a dud.
I give Dark Phoenix 2 out of 5 untrimmed eyebrow hairs of Professor X.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.