Is X-Men: Dark Phoenix Worth Watching?

Well this is it, the final X-Men film (excluding any spin-offs) after 19 years. Based on The Dark Phoenix Saga from the original comics, the most iconic story arc among the fans, this is the film franchise’s second attempt at adapting it after the third film X-Men: The Last Stand.

While that film did benefit from a chilling performance by Famke Janssen as Jean/Phoenix and a few intense moments, unfortunately the Phoenix portions were severely sidelined in favour of another main plot involving a mutant cure which didn’t mesh well.

After X-Men: Days Of Future Past, a new timeline has been created in the franchise that made it possible for a do-over. In this film the Phoenix is now the sole focus making Jean the protagonist this time, so is second time the charm?

After saving the world during the events of X-Men: Apocalypse, the X-Men no longer face prejudice and are now celebrated as superheroes. When the X-Men are on a mission to rescue astronauts from a solar flare, telekinetic and telepathic Jean Grey is hit by the flare that bonds with her powers. Unable to control herself and her powers while discovering secrets, Jean is lost and becoming dangerous. The rest of her X-family become conflicted among each other – can Jean be saved or must she die?

Returning cast Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, Nicholas Hoult as Beast, Tye Sheridan as Cyclops, Alexandra Shipp as Storm, Evan Peters as Quicksilver, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler are all great in their roles. While they could’ve benefited from a little bit more screen time, they all at least have been given their moments to shine.

Jessica Chastain joins the cast as Vuk, a leader of shape-shifting aliens wanting to control the Phoenix for themselves. While Vuk is really just a generic villain whose motivation is to repopulate her own species, Chastain does at least deliver an icy performance to complement her Tilda Swinton-esque appearance.

James McAvoy delivers easily his best portrayal as Professor Xavier yet. Being honoured by the President as heading superheroes and accepting medals has given him a major ego. Yet he has a major arc as he is at a major loss at how to resolve the situation with Jean and not resort back to the prejudice he fought hard to overcome.

The relationship between Xavier and Jean is by far the most emotional part of the film, it’s a complex father/daughter-like dynamic and he believed he did right by protecting her from her tragic past. She feels betrayed by the reveal of his big secret, yet the love they share may not all be lost.

Sophie Turner is undoubtedly the star of the film, delivering a whole range of emotions at the same time. Jean is a sympathetic character, yet she’s pretty intimidating during the intense moments. Turner is able to keep the audience routing for her even she’s turning to the dark-side.

She has moments where she experiences pain, sadness and then joy and neither moment feels out of place, Turner is successful at transmitting those moments believably. You could look at Jean’s relationship to the Phoenix as a metaphor for drug-addiction, it makes her lose control, it makes her feel good yet it’s killing her on the insane and it causes suffering to people she loves.

This is visually dazzling, the space mission was excellent to look at as well as moment when Xavier looks into Jean’s mind and when Vuk shows Jean a hallucinations of the flare and her planet.

While I would’ve liked to have seen more of the fire-bird, the look of the phoenix-form is still great with the fiery veins on her face and hands, her golden eyes and her hair flows like it's in water. It complements Sophie Turner’s look, who is both beautiful and frightening.

The phoenix flare is also interesting, with a mixture of orange and pink flames giving both a dangerous and cosmic feel to it. I also love how she disintegrates solid objects around her and she does it in wavelengths, which look striking in IMAX.

The action scenes are fantastic and intense. Besides the opening space mission we also have the X-Men Vs. Phoenix in the street; Phoenix Vs. the military on Magneto’s refuge island; Magneto’s brotherhood Vs. the X-Men in the streets of New York.

Every moment of the action actually serve purpose for the story characters, there are consequences involving people getting hurt and it affects decisions the characters make. All of this is followed by an excellent climax on a train where all our heroes utilise their powers together and a showdown with bittersweet results.

There are flaws, however. As mentioned, the aliens are not interesting and pretty one-dimensional. But the film does recognise the main conflict is Jean’s destruction and the fallout of the heroes we’ve followed through the series.

Considering this the only time aliens are utilised, in a superhero franchise that has been largely grounded, it’s understandable the filmmakers didn’t want to focus too much on them. The film is less than two hours long, and therefore it could’ve been a little longer for the supporting characters to get a bit more development. However, a shorter running time did give this film a tighter feel and less bloated like X-Men: Apocalypse, which could’ve been better with half an hour cut out.

The ending itself works perfectly fine for the film on its own, but I wouldn’t say it was a curtain call for the franchise as a whole (unlike the ending of X-Men: Days Of Future Past).

It does sadden me that this film is getting some pretty harsh reviews from critics, as ,while I wouldn’t say it’s up to the quality of X2, X-Men: Days Of Future Past or Logan, it’s kilometres above the disaster that is X-Men Origins: Wolverine and it definitely surpasses X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Apocalypse (and I actually enjoyed those two films).

I would put on par with the first X-Men film and if you’ve read my review of that film you’ll know I loved it.

You don’t necessarily have to watch the other films to understand what’s going on, as it does a good job at keeping the story mostly self-contained for new viewers but I highly recommend watching them to get the full benefit.

It is an overall solid entry in the franchise that is intense and emotional with an excellent leading performance by Sophie Turner and as a long-term fan of these films I’m happy enough to leave the franchise on this note. Team X-Men.

Written by Jack Parish

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