All the things left undone in the final X-Men movie would’ve made for a better ending.
Twelve films in and, yes, the tagline is true: The X-Men’s greatest enemy is itself. If Marvel Cinematic Universe is the pacesetter, and DC failed to launch, X-Men seems perfectly content to be bland if only because it’s safe.
Continuing the trend set in the most recent trilogy, Dark Phoenix jumps ahead a decade to 1992 where after rescuing the Endeavor spaceship, mutant Jean Grey is hit by a solar flare which amplifies her telekinetic powers. Professor X and his longtime frenemy Magneto team up (yet again) to contain Jean’s energy as an ancient alien, Vuk, is out for revenge.
This could have been a film that ended the X-Men/20th Century Fox franchise on an upswing. It’s impossible to encapsulate the entire Dark Phoenix saga. Why not end on a tasteful cliffhanger even if we know the eventual ending? This film only serves as meta narrative that’s more about being a slave to redemption than a source for inspiration. Writer Simon Kinberg makes his directorial debut in a second attempt to properly bring the story to screen (2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand). This is a lame duck for all involved.
This all raises the question of what exactly source material is and what’s the purpose of properly conveying said material. As a child of the ’90s, The Phoenix Saga for me and countless others was the cartoon miniseries that also deviated from the iconic ’80s comic. How important was being true to the comic since only the beginning conflict was used. Dark Phoenix goes in such a different direction (probably because of reshoots and a whole new third act as of less than four months ago). It truly seems that the only master Kinberg was serving was himself.
The acting is dependable, if uninspired. The cast knows their roles three films in with no room to grow. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are given the best lines and are delivered as such. Nicholas Hoult and Jennifer Lawrence deserve much better. The romantic story arc between these started off as star-crossed lovers and ends in pure dreck. Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, and Evan Peters are seen more than heard which doesn’t say much for either.
Worse is that the biggest stakes are left in the hands of Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan. Both are solid actors with interesting futures but it’s hardly fair to leave them to carry all the emotional weight of an ending trilogy that happens to be a tentpole blockbuster with such inexperience. Kinberg expected them to powerlift without learning proper form. Lest we forget, Jessica Chastain serves a meaningless role that is barely tangential to the source material and logically meaningless.
In hindsight, the franchise’s creative peak was 2011’s X-Men: First Class. That film had a sense of excitement because it wasn’t a pure adaptation. It gave the audience the opportunity to reconnect with our favorite gifted students. The franchise’s biggest mistake in hindsight was 2014’s Days of Future Past, if only because the producers thought they could synthesize and formulate an instant classic.
Dark Phoenix is better left for completionists or in-flight entertainment.