★★☆☆☆ (Average; worth it if you’re into the genre.)
We finally got a real X-Men movie.
As a life-long fan of the X-Men comics, I went in to Dark Phoenix with very low expectations. The past X-Men movies have all been substandard, in my opinion, and the fact that they were going to crap out another take on one of the best story lines in comic book history—and one of my all time favorites—chafed. Especially since we know that Disney since acquired Fox, ending our long national nightmare where the X-Men were forever separate from the MCU. (OK, maybe that’s a tad over dramatic, but I love the X-Men!) The early reviews have been mixed, and Rotten Tomatoes has it at 22%/65%, which kept my expectations in line with my thoughts on the previous entries in the franchise.
This morning, I was surprised and delighted to enjoy the movie. As I wrote up top, I think this is the first time we’ve had a good look at a team of “real” X-Men. Sure, this is a modern take—not only is Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) still a hero instead of villain, she’s now the team elder and leader. Still, we finally have a combination of heroes that fans from back in the heyday of the Claremont comics would recognize. One character who is obviously missing is Wolverine, although given how he’s dominated the earlier movies, his absence gives the rest of the team room to breathe. It’s good to see Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) back, although I wish he’d had more to do than brood over Jean (Sophie Turner). While he did brood a lot in the comics, we never get to see the other side of him: a fully-realized Cyclops leading the X-Men.
The biggest flaw of the movie is that we just haven’t had enough time with these X-Men to really care about them as people, especially Jean. The comics built the Phoenix saga over years; it’s unreasonable to expect that this story can be told as well in just one movie. I can imagine that most of the harsher reviews are from people who just interpret this movie based only in the context of the earlier ones—which is fair—but fans of the comics will probably like it better.
While this version of the story is truer to the spirit of the original story than the terrible version we got the first time Fox attempted it, Jean never really gets to let loose as Dark Phoenix, and her fate is quite different than the heartbreaking (and genre-changing) end of the comics saga. And the alien bad guys (the D'Bari, whose planet can’t catch a break in either the comics nor the movies) led by Jessica Chastain as Vuk, aren’t very compelling.
On the other hand, the Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) all get some great scenes, especially the latter, who really gets to cut loose in a flurry of “BAMF!"s. There is also a scene that features the Dazzler (Halston Sage), who was also introduced in the comics during the Phoenix saga (she appears here in her period-correct costume, no less). Fun stuff.
The thing the comics got right back then was to establish the personalities and interpersonal relationships of the X-Men and then tell an epic saga about these people we then cared about. Dark Phoenix did that as well as it could without the benefit of more time than this one movie afforded.