Dark Phoenix Non-Spoiler Review
It’s okay, for me, it wasn't "dog s**t" as some have claimed - that's their take, but it's pretty bland. For a farewell to this incarnation of the iconic Marvel characters, it's a bit of slap in the face for fans... at least we got 'Logan'.
With dialogue, and line delivery, at points even a Michael Bay movie would be embarrassed by, ‘Dark Phoenix’ is a relic of the past, a movie that would have been a solid experience in 1998 – to be fair it would have been a decent film in 2004-6. I found myself laughing out loud during the opening as a space shuttle launch/news footage/ people around the world watching TV montage set the scene and I thought the reel had been switched over to ‘Armageddon’ – which, in hindsight, would have been preferable. Now, that’s a massively negative start, however, there were plenty of glimmers of a film here worth releasing in a post ‘Endgame’ world.
Back to the ‘90s. This run of four main feature ‘X-Men’ movies has now spanned 4 decades of in-universe time, starting in the 1960s with ‘First Class’, then the ‘70s, ‘80s and now the ‘90s. Matthew Vaughn did try to make the decade more than just a backdrop and craft a story with ‘60s themes and a ‘60s ‘Bond’ aesthetic. Had the other two films gone all in, with each of them embracing their respective decades beyond a basic backdrop and winks, had they leaned into the tone, pacing, style etc. of a cliched genre of the time (something ‘The Winter Soldier’ kind of did while not being set in the past), then this film feeling like a ‘90s superhero throwback would have given it some major meta points, unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. That said, I had read and seen online that this was “dogshit” and the worst ‘X-Men’ movie ever, for me, it’s not, but at the same time, plenty of the passes given to this film are born of context. I slammed ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ when it came out because it was a massive drop in quality compared to ‘X2’ (not that those first films were perfect, mind), nothing can hurt a movie more than dropping the ball when a franchise has momentum. So, it’s tough to truly detach myself from the turbulence of the franchise outside of the films themselves sometimes, as for this one I had no hope going in. I just wanted a story that had a beginning, a middle and an end that lined up and was, for once, willing to go along for the ride. For me, after ‘First Class’ and ‘Days of Future Past’ – other than ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Logan’ which I consider standalones, with some connective tissue to this idiosyncratic series - the big-budget main event ‘X-Men’ films died with ‘Apocalypse’ - barring the ‘Quicksilver’ scene - so didn’t really care. Plus, add to that mix the Disney buy out and that ‘Days of Future Past’ and ‘Logan’ already did the swan song thing for the my “proper” Fox ‘X-Men’, this was just a “go along and don’t care too much” affair.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, and the slower pace and more sombre tone at least gave it the illusion of being interesting throughout. The character motivations and the continuity is way off compared to the last film/s, but in this film, it muddles along without falling face down in the dirt – at this point, I didn’t care if the film contradicted what had come before as long as it mostly stayed true to itself. Simon Kinberg has improved his take on the ‘Dark Phoenix Saga’ since 2006, not that this storyline should ever be told in one film, but maybe the directing duties should have gone to someone else. Kinberg didn’t do a bad job at all, just not a great job. Another director working with him to give the script some punch visually was much needed. However, at least this was more visually interesting during most of the non-action scenes than ‘Apocalypse’, a film in which most of the characters stand around posing for promotional material while someone else talks. A couple of expectation subversions were irritating. Yeah, it’s one thing to deviate from where the audience thinks something is going, but there wasn’t a surprise payoff for that character down the line when I wasn’t expecting it or something equally as awesome as a replacement.
With the characters entering the MCU “in the near future”, the biggest gripe is how poorly Fox has handled the series with so many great actors in certain roles. The ‘X-Men’ franchise is such a mess that it would be even more messed up if Marvel Studios didn't hit the hard reboot command and start fresh, bringing the mutants into the MCU clean of past sins, but damn, I so want Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy to remain in place as ‘Magneto’ and ‘Professor X’.
I just hope that one day we get a movie featuring the ‘X-Men’ that delivers a proper ‘Cyclops’ and ‘Rogue’ and also 'Morph'.
It’s a short film that’s paced so it fills a longer running time, but it isn’t a complete mess. If you are wavering, maybe don’t bother paying to see it, wait for home release? That said, if you’re avoiding it due to 1/5 reviews, but do kind of want to see it, go for it, it’s okay, a 3/5 nothing special but Michael Fassbender’s few set pieces make it worth it if you’re are a fan of his take. The advantage the MCU has is that they can throw any budget at any film if needed because they’re playing a long game, ‘Dark Phoenix’ was obviously budget conscious, unfortunately, the wage bill meant it looked like it cost less.
Head of content and co-founder of Beyond the Box Office.