Warning: Article contains minor spoilers for X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
The critics have been none to kind to the last chapter in the Fox X-Men franchise. Rotten Tomatoes has the film at a 22% with Critics and 65% with audiences, yet Cinemascore gives it a B-. Is the movie really that bad, or is it something else?
In my opinion X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a GOOD movie. Is it a top, A level movie? No. But at the same time is it a bottom of the heap piece of junk? No. You will not leave this movie with any sense of wow or greatness, but most should leave satisfied.
This movie had a lot going against it. The fox merger interfered with what could be as the X-Men now belong to Marvel and Disney. They had to reshoot the ending because they feared it copied another superhero movie too closely in the third act (Captain Marvel). It also had a noob at the helm of director, but despite all of this, there is one problem that truly cuts to the core of Dark Phoenix and its issues.
The Single Biggest Issue With X-Men: Dark Phoenix
There was a scene early on between Hank McCoy (Beast) and Raven (Mystique). They share a toast and one of them states they are the last of the first class. That is when it struck me, this is a baton movie. Baton movies pass the mantle from the old guard to the new generation who will carry the mantle forward. This movie passes the X-Men mantle from the last of the First Class group to the future X-Men as we know them with Cyclops, Jean, Storm, Nightcrawler, Etc.
Why is this the problem? Simon Kinberg is trying, as his rookie project no less, to pass the torch while simultaneously telling one of the largest and most important stories in the X-verse. It was too much, too fast all at once.
The Problem With Dual Purposes
The story feels very rushed. The X-Men: Dark Phoenix story in the comics crossed a dozen titles and lasted for some time. This is very similar to the Dark Knight Rises. That story, and this one, should have been its own trilogy, yet creators tried to tell it in a single movie. There is just too much story for so little time.
The problem with trying to do such a large story doesn’t help when you are also doing a baton movie. This movie should have passed the baton to the new cast and stopped there. The new cast I think is magnificent. Alexandra Ship as Storm and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler were excellent, but they have had so little time.
This story required us to care for the new cast, but most had seen very little screen time or been given enough time for us to attach to them. At the same time the story of Dark Phoenix required us to be attached and care about them. This was a movie done one too early.
Jennifer Lawrence turned in a better performance here than in Apocolypse. The problem is that Raven is such a bitch in this movie, it is hard to care about her any more. Her death being released before the movie was also a big mistake. When Jean kills Raven we know it is there, thus there is zero emotion behind it.
Jessica Chastain was a complete waste in this movie. Her villain had all the depth and purpose of a Marvel villain, think Malekith from Thor 2. Then again there was too much story to do anything with her. They served their purpose as a bad ass group for the X-Men to unload on, but that is it.
What Did Work in X-Men: Dark Phoenix?
What little time the new cast had, they made good use of. Storm and Nightcrawler are great additions to the team. Their fight sequences are the best of the franchise. There is a scene where Nightcrawler gets pissed off and goes all-in during a fight. His moves were incredible. Even Magneto, whom we have seen use his powers fought in a manner that showed what a bad ass he really is. We see Professor X in a fight for the first time as well.
Scott and Jean were very solid in this movie, but we have had no time to get to know them. They were just being introduced in the last movie, but no time has been focused on them to develop their relationship. We needed another movie with them.
The old cast of Professor X, Magneto, and Beast were great in X-Men: Dark Phoenix. They all nailed their parts as usual, and received the endings each of them deserved. The baton was passed from them fairly well, but there was too much else going on to really appreciate their farewells.
Simon Kinberg did a serviceable job with this film. You won’t walk out of this movie impressed by its grandeur, but you won’t walk out thinking this is the worst of the X-Men films as well.
Had they split the baton passing and the Dark Phoenix into two movies there would have been fewer issues, but then again with Disney now ending the Fox franchise, the future was dead either way. Disney would be stupid to pass on some if not all of these actors for the future X-Men movies. Alexandra Shipp is the embodiment of Storm, but will never get to show us all she could have done with it. The fights at the end were magnificent, but the rest was a muddled mess of two purposes. This makes for fun movie, but not a great one.