Dark Phoenix 2019
This is apparently the swan song for the Fox version of the X-Men that really started the modern era of superhero movies and re-started with 2010’s First Class, and is now lumped into the Disney conglomerate so future cinematic X-Men will likely be tied into the MCU. It’s also one of the few 2019 releases that I wasn’t able to make it out to see in theaters even though this was a generally lighter year for superhero and comic book movies, or at least the year was heavily front loaded with several releases in the early months of the year. In general, I’ve been a fan of nearly all of the X-Men movies aside from the ones everyone hates. But I’ve also generally enjoyed the more recent ones that have been pretty middling to most audiences. I don’t think they handled every character very well, but they did do a few things right in this movie and I enjoyed more than I disliked. And while this is still a relatively new release, I will be discussing the plot in its entirety so there may be spoilers.
One of the best parts of the X-Men franchise has always been the deep characters, at least the best parts of the good movies. This has some elements of that, but it gives a lot of the characters the short shrift. Nightcrawler is basically used like an MMO support character in the climactic battle where everyone is calling him to port them to the battle. He does get one moment of action movie rage that starts to approach the quality of the White House scene in X2 but still falls quite short of that high bar. Magneto has a few nice moments along with the subtle nod to the mutant island community of Genosha but he’s also more of a tool rather than a full fledged character. Raven especially feels like a completely different character than she had in any of the previous movies and she gets killed before she can have a real impact. Her death does further some of the other characters, but the plot moves so quickly that her death just feels like a light step towards the rest of the movie.
That isn’t to say that this film treats everything horribly. It does have an interesting and unique take on the Dark Phoenix story despite feeling rushed. This is a huge step up from The Last Stand’s version of the Phoenix where she spent most of the time dead eyed and easily controlled by Magneto. Here, she spends a lot more time coming to grips with this outside force combined with her internal repressed memories. There are a lot of complexities and Jessica Chastain’s Vuk does a much better job at her attempts at manipulation and control and the visualization of that power and force is quite impressive. It feels very cosmic yet there’s still a fiery presence when combined with Jean’s inner powers despite never being fully clear on where this cosmic power begins and Jean’s inner Phoenix power ends. Sophie Turner handles the role well and looking at this film as more of a psychological thriller based on her character specifically, it does work to a certain extent. Everything is focused around her, but there’s still an element of being overly rushed where her arc never entirely feels fully fleshed out.
One of the best moments in the film is the big action set piece on the train car towards the end. But once again it approaches but doesn’t reach the high bar set by another film in the franchise. It has some great teamwork and brutal moments similar to Days of Future Past as we get to see our team (plus Magneto minus Quicksilver) really go all out on the alien threat. Honestly, this film is filled with moments that echo things done in previous X-Men films and while they’re done well, they’re not done nearly as well as they were before. Quicksilver gets his one scene to shine, and while it’s actually nice to not have them go full on Time in a Bottle/Sweet Dreams, the fact that he’s completely taken out of the movie in the next scene is a huge letdown. There’s even a subtle nod to the original X-Men movie when the Blackbird comes up out of the basketball court and we see the basketball roll out of the way.
Besides the characters, X-Men stories have often been more about socio-political allegories about tolerance and racism. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t really have any of that. It tries to take a different direction as initially, the X-Men have become the poster children of positive mutant role models. They’re at the President’s beck and call and are given awards at prestigious dinners. But as soon as Jean goes rogue, the entire world seemingly turns on mutants in a heartbeat. But we never really see how the rest of the world interacts with mutants, we only get to see things from Xavier’s perspective as someone who used to be able to call the President directly and actually reach him, to becoming public enemy number 1. Or technically number 2 behind Jean. There are some good moments throughout this movie, but the characters don’t feel like the characters that we’ve come to know through all of the previous movies. Especially since we’ve really only gotten to know most of these characters in just one movie previously besides Xavier and Magneto. And most of the characters that we have known felt like completely different characters than we’re used to. It may sound like overly harsh criticism, but if you can get over those preconceived notions, there is still a decent movie here. It’s just a little rushed. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.