What I'm Watching: Dark Phoenix
Man, I am still terrible at this section and have really let it lie fallow. I need to be better about this. But here I am, again, and really, this is a movie I HAD to talk about; Dark Phoenix. If there is one movie I should talk about, one character who defines me, it’s this one.
First, the usual background. I am a longtime X-Men fan. C’mon, my nom de plume is Jason Grey. Jean Grey may not be my absolute favourite character, but she is up there, and especially the Phoenix. Even the philosophy of always rising, never stopping, endless second chances, is something that gets me through the rough days. The Phoenix is more than a character to me, it is a symbol. So yeah, this is important to me.
And after X-Men 2, when they teased Jean as the Phoenix, I was SO EXCITED for things to come. Things that…that never actually came. I mean, they tried with the Last Stand but scrunches face. Everyone assumes, rightly so, that I hate X-Men 3, but I will be honest, I don’t. It has a LOT of flaws, yes. It does Cyclops dirty, and it misses the point of the entire Dark Phoenix Saga, by making the Phoenix a supporting player in the story of the movie. Simon Kinberg did recently admit how big of a mistake this was, and hoped to get it right with this latest attempt, in “Dark Phoenix.
Did he hit the mark this time? Well, let’s see. Oh, and needless to say, spoilers ahoy…
Dark Phoenix takes place after the last few movies, in the new timeline established with Days of Future Past. The X-Men are haled as heroes, finally receiving the love and adoration, instead of the fear and hatred they’ve always received. They have taken huge strides in their goal of making mutants more accepted by society. To the point that when there is an impending disaster in space, the President himself calls Charles Xavier on the X-Phone (I am NOT kidding), to ask the X-Men to save the day.
The pile into the recently upgraded X-Jet, fly into space, and do the superhero thing to get the astronauts safely back to Earth. But the shuttle is falling apart, and Jean volunteers to hold it together while the astronauts are evacuated, but the solar flare arrives too soon, and she is hit with all that energy before she can herself be retrieved
Somehow, she survives the event, healthier than ever, and things seem okay…but they so very much are not. This infusion of energy is overtaking her, boosting her powers, and lessening her inhibitions. She is struggling to hold it all in, but it all feels so good.
Things get worse when some aliens show up interested in this cosmic force and the danger it poses, leading to the last temptation of Jean Grey, a fight between the X-Men and the aliens for the life of Jean, and Jean sacrificing herself to save everyone, knowing she can never control this vast power.
If you’re familiar with the original Dark Phoenix Saga, you should recognise a LOT of this plot. Because they did it. They adapted it both very faithfully, but building on what the movie universe had. Yes, there are differences, but this gave me about 80% of what I would want from a Dark Phoenix live action movie. 10% of what I didn’t get is a proper Phoenix costume (Although there is a particular look that comes wicked close without being it at all) and the other 10% would involve the Imperial Guard and a fight on the moon. But even that they tweaked around a bit. I wonder if the words of reshoots to make it a little less cosmic, would have included something closer to the comics.
As an X-Men fan. As a fan of Jean Grey. As a fan of the Dark Phoenix Saga…
I am very, very satisfied. I loved this movie.
You may have seen all the HATE this movie is getting, and I do not understand it. This is no X-Men Origins: Wolverine with mouthless Deadpool with everyone’s powers. This is FAR and away better than Last Stand. Is it my favourite X-Men movie? No, probably not, but I would put it in the top half, surely.
This movie is getting terrible reviews it does not deserve, many from critics who aren’t comic fans, so that’s to be expected. And the box office is turning out to be atrocious. which again, this movie doesn’t deserve. It’s not THAT bad, and I honestly do NOT understand how much hate and disinterest this movie is getting.
I’ve had discussions about the movie and marketing making a series mistake in not calling this X-Men: Dark Phoenix, but after seeing it, the actual title does make sense. I would argue this is NOT an X-Men movie. This is Jean Grey’s story. This is the story of the Phoenix. She is front and centre, and yes the X-Men are in it, but this is Jean’s story, first and foremost. From her tragic youth, to her noble sacrifice, it is all Jean, all the time. And that is the way it should be.
Also, they do so much right by Cyclops in this film. And the relationship between Scott and Jean. Their love is central to the plot of the original comics story, and it is just as important here. They are the heart and soul of this movie, as Jean succumbs to power, and Scott tries to do everything he can to get through to her. And isn’t discarded in the first 25 minutes cough
This also leads to another thing I loved about this movie; an utter lack of Wolverine. That was another huge misstep of the first attempt. Jean and Logan are not the couple this story should revolve around, and we don’t need a love triangle in this story. It’s already a struggle between Scott, Jean, and the Phoenix Force. Yes, having Scott AND Logan in the movie could be used symbolically of the struggle between Jean’s two sides, but it would have just made things too complicated. And been creepy with Jackman and Turner. Also, I was never a fan of HOW Wolverine-centric every single damned X-Men movie had to be. And of course, just as we are getting past reliance on Wolverine and delving into other characters, more obscure characters, welp! Now we’re done with the FOX era of X-Men movies, and everything is gonna get rebooted into the MCU, where we will surely focus right back on the popular characters for the next ten years. But THAT is a whole ‘nother rant for another day.
Another important element, something that runs through all things X-Men, is the arrogance of Charles Xavier. He does the right thing, for the right reasons, but it often comes across as him being a control freak and arrogant, and let’s be honest, he is. The decisions he made decades ago come home to roost in this movie. While they are different decisions than what he did in the Last Stand, gratefully so since “Dark Phoenix is just disassociative identity disorder'“ is terrible, they’re still pretty awful here, even if he was trying to help.
The biggest surprise of this movie is probably Jessica Chastain’s character. There was a lot of speculation on whom she could be playing, and I don’t think anyone guessed it right. As for myself, I have never been more happy to be so wrong. I was on board with it being a personification of the Phoenix Force tempting Jean. But that also never sat well with me, because it could easily come across as a retread of an alternate personality. So when it turned out that she was actually one of the D’Bari, a race in the comics that was collateral damage when the Dark Phoenix devoured a sun, I nearly lost my mind. Sure, Jean didn’t commit the genocide herself and that was shifted to the Phoenix Force itself, but I think that’s for the best. It takes all that blood off of Jean’s hands, but still has it as a primary motivation for the aliens coming after this cosmic destructive force. I never thought I would see a D’Bari in live action, but here we are, and I am living for it. Another core element from the original story that made it to the big screen.
Another tiny moment I really enjoyed, was Quicksilver. I have been very vocal about how much I did NOT like his showcase sequences in the previous two movies, as they ground things to a halt and screamed “Look, this is cool! You must like it because it’s cool!” but urgh. And all I wanted from Dark Phoenix, was for things to slam into slow motion as he makes a run on Jean, and she is having NONE OF IT and stops him dead in his tracks, despite moving at top speed. Quicksilver can run fast, but the Phoenix moves at the speed of thought. And the movie did it. Almost exactly how I wanted them to. Again, I was happy.
Now, all this love does not mean it is a perfect movie, not by a long shot. But to be honest, none of the X-Men movies are, they all have problems, and many of them have the same problems.
One of the biggest problems with the franchise is the ancillary characters and cameos. They’ll drop in a minor character as a minion, which is often the LAST thing such a character is, and they will barely look like the familiar face, so you don’t realise it was your favourite character until you look it up on IMDB later. or the character’s personality is SO far removed from the comics, you wonder why even bother? Or they’re barely even used, so again, why bother? But at least with something like a girl running through walls, you can get a little bit of YAY. This continues to happen in Dark Phoenix, with a number of the mutants living with Magneto in his mutant homeland. (Was it even namechecked as Genosha on screen? I know it’s SUPPOSED to be…)
Another issue is the buildup to Dark Phoenix. Which is a CONSTANT problem with adapting this story. You need both sides of the coin. You need Jean gaining the power, doing good, adjusting to it, and being “Light” Phoenix for awhile, a whole movie, before turning and having her downfall. This is a big story that has never been given its proper due. In fairness, I DO feel they made the best of the situation, and with only one movie to work with, it almost sells it. But we don’t get enough time with Jean to truly appreciate the turn. Preferably, you would have the saving the astronauts, getting the Phoenix Force, and becoming the Phoenix run over the course of another movie, not even maybe about Jean, but then ending with her starting to be corrupted, and then the Dark Phoenix story comes along. But, that was never going to happen, so this almost works.
The biggest misstep, again goes back to the marketing, and showcasing the death of Mystique in the first trailer. We’ve all known it was coming, and while trying to show that THIS time, anything can happen, is commendable for trying to build interest…what SHOULD be the pivotal turn of the movie just kinda…sits there. We all saw it coming, so it happens, and its a thing, but it doesn’t affect the audience as much as it should have, which is a shame.
One other little thing that bugged me, is when Nightcrawler goes on a bit of a stabby killing spree. Yes, it’s in service of protecting his friends and Jean, but it is just SO against any version of Kurt outside of the Age of Apocalypse, that it just does not ring true.
There are also some very silly moments, like when Jean pulls on Xavier’s strings to force him to walk to her, that, if you’re not into the movie, can come across as very goofy. I winced a little myself, but I was so along for the ride by that point, it didn’t bother me as much as it did others. It’s more a matter of the execution not quite working than anything else.
There is also some dodgy dialogue and delivery of lines that might have come off better. But again, the original X-Men has that infamous “Do you know what happens to a Toad when its struck by lightning?” travesty, so again, no surprise.
Everything wrong with this movie is stuff we’ve seen before, and despite changing a lot of things, it still remains very, very faithful to the source material. It has a lot of heart, it sends the franchise off on a high note, and is a worthy capstone to the 20 years worth of movies we’ve had. Yes, it could have done more, it could have been even bigger, to really be an extravaganza, but that would have been a mistake. The Dark Phoenix Saga may have been cosmic, but it was also VERY personal in its stakes, and they hit that balance right. Plus, we already HAD an Endgame this year, toning this one down wasn’t a bad decision. It gives us something different, and that 20% difference that I would have liked to see? Well, I don’t WANT a straight adaptation, I want it to be faithful while still surprising me.
And that is what this movie is. A faithful adaptation telling it’s own interpretation, with some solid performances, one of the best Jean Grey stories ever committed to film, and it did what it set out to do…it entertained me for nearly two hours.
So, I implore you, if you’ve been a fan of the X-Men movies, if you’ve liked the last few - because that is the closest in tone and style to this movie - then you will probably enjoy this one as well, and should go see it. Don’t let the X-Men franchise go out with a whimper at the box office, because this movie does not deserve that.
I just…I just want to make all this negativity go away, because this movie is better than that, even if it is far from perfect.