It’s time to look at the newest X-Men film. The trailers for this one were looking pretty sharp from the start so it had the potential to be the best X film. Of course, the films haven’t had the best track record. X-Men The Last Stand was really solid, First Class and X2 were also pretty good, but the original X-Men and Apocalypse were not so good. Still, the Fox universe has basically been buried so they’d want to go out on a good note and I’d say that they did. Not only is this the best X-Men film of them all, but it can hold its head up high against the other big comic book movies out there.
The film starts off with a flashback as Jean gets into an accident with her parents and we see Xavier bring her to his school. We then cut to the present where the X-Men head into space to save some astronauts and Jean Grey absorbs part of the Phoenix Force. Her abilities start to go out of control and once she starts causing a lot of damage the team is forced to decide if they can still save her or if she’s still too far gone. At this point, is she really still Jean Grey or just the malicious Phoenix?
Dark Phoenix doesn’t waste any time in ramping up the tension. (It is called Dark Phoenix for a reason after all) The film’s pacing is quick from the start and builds a very good atmosphere. The soundtrack is stellar here (Jean Grey’s main theme is definitely the best one) and that’s always important. It’s easily a contender for one of the best soundtracks in a CBM. Certainly top 5. Dark Phoenix is a very serious comic film, it’s got the same vibe as the amazing DC titles Batman V Superman, Man of Steel or even the older ones like The Dark Knight. There are a lot of traumatic events for all the characters so there is rarely a time for them to catch their breath.
My favorite scene in the film is the fight between the “Save Jean” and “Destroy Jean” factions. It’s a pretty local level fight as it’s a 4 v 4, but team battles like that are always the best. I also am glad that the fights weren’t ties and there were no cop outs here. One side was clearly beating the other and it was the correct team. One side was simply way more stacked than the other. That was the main fight of the film, but in the climax we also get to see the heroes take on the villain zombies. Those guys can’t really fight back quite as much so it’s more one sided, but I do think the film did a good job of making them more of a threat than the average expendables.
The villains don’t get to appear much in the trailers so I’ll stay vague on who they are and what the goals are. I do think that they were nerfed a bit by the end though. They seem to be able to move your organs and crush your body with a light grasp or even with mental abilities. They seem to forget about this ability by the end of the film, but it would have been a handy way to destroy at least some of the X-Men. Most of the members could be defeated by the villains if you ask me.
Most of the characters look really solid here. Mystique has really grown into her role as the X-Men leader. While I was on Xavier’s side with the rocket decision over hers, I am glad that Mystique is always looking after the team. She sees the big picture more than the others do. Cyclops is definitely really good here as well. He’s still a teenager as opposed to being the X-Men leader like in the old films, but he never doubts Jean for a second. He’s on her side from start to finish and that kind of devotion is definitely accurate to his character. His optical blasts are also given a lot of respect here and he doesn’t hold back at all when attacking.
Unfortunately Storm doesn’t look very good here. I do think they did her personality justice here as she is a lot more aggressive and eager to fight. The problem is that she is portrayed as being pretty weak to be honest. She loses most of her fights and seems to let her guard down. I’d like her to look stronger in future appearances. Nightcrawler is a reasonable character, I just never liked him much. He doesn’t seem very proactive compared to the others although he does finally get a homage to his knife combo scene from the old films.
Beast has a pretty big role here. He definitely takes the early events hard and makes a controversial move to make things right. I don’t think anyone would claim that he’s making the heroic move here and even he knows that. Still, considering what happened you can definitely see why he’s making the choice. I find him to be pretty weak though and he rarely does a whole lot of damage. Quicksilver only appears for a few minutes tops here as the writers were probably scared that he would end the whole film in a minute. Unfortunately even then there is at least one time where he could have saved the team but didn’t. This is the problem with making a character so overwhelmingly powerful.
Jean Grey is the lead so lets talk about her for a second. Naturally she’s fighting with the Phoenix the whole time so she’s not always in her right state of mind. She tends to be a little oversensitive to everything so everybody triggers her. She can go into murder mode at the drop of a hat. It helps add more nuance to which side you’ll end up choosing. All in all, I thought she looked pretty good though. She may have been a bit gullible during some of the scenes and trusting villain groups is rarely a good choice. Still, I think the film did a good job with handling her as a villain here.
The star of the movie as always is Magneto. He’s been a really great character during the trilogy and he steals all of the scenes here. While he is not as powerful as the Phoenix I dare say that he is the second strongest mutant at this point. He’s the only one who can actually fight back compared to the others. He’s had a very complete character arc by this point and while he is drawn back into the battle, it’s nice that he had finally found peace. The fact that this is the third movie does help quite a bit since by now all of the characters are established so it’s easy for us to understand all of the character motivations.
Xavier is another big character of course. He definitely makes some key mistakes in the film. Xavier is definitely still one of the good guys from start to finish, but his problem is that he just doesn’t see any of his mistakes. He seems to think that he’s always on the right side. It’s a good quality to have as a leader since you have to believe that your cause is just, but part of the blame here can definitely be thrown over to him. Still, at the end of the day he does what he can to remedy the situation. He does feel a lot weaker here though as other telepaths can hold their own against him. He’s definitely not the Omega level mutant you might have thought he was.
I think some characters who may be overlooked, but shouldn’t be are Magneto’s teammates. I actually really liked both of them even though we never even get to know their names. One of them can fight with his hair and from how he was wrecking one of the X-Men members he is a considerable threat. The guy’s super loyal and was always quick to get into battle. The other is a telepath who was holding her own against Xavier and even causing him to back up. Their back and forth battle of wits was really solid and she was one of the best characters in the film. I’d put her second only to Magneto. I don’t have many qualms with the film, but one of them is that these characters get the shaft. I don’t think their endings were deserved and they should have done more. They were loyal followers to Magneto and the fact that he has given mutants a place to live really makes it a powerful moment. These guys are ready to put their lives on the line for Magneto because he has finally helped the mutants out once and for all. I’d argue that he’s made a safer existence for mutants than Xavier ever did.
The ending of the film is incredibly forced though and doesn’t really make any sense. There’s not a whole lot I can say about it since I don’t even want to spoil any part of it, but it really only happens for drama. It’s the kind of ending that you’d expect and so the film delivers on it, but there’s no narrative reason why it had to happen. The character could have chosen any other option and it would have worked rather than this desperate move. The other paths would have also made for a more entertaining ending. An ending is important, but it’s not like it’s horrible either. The final part of the final scene at least salvages what it can.
Part of why the film is good is naturally the writing. A dynamite soundtrack and excellent special effects go a long way, but at the end of the day you need solid writing to keep the film operating at a high level. This film probably has the best script that I’ve seen since Batman V Superman. (Infinity War also deserves a nod although it’s a very different kind of script) You’ll be engaged right away. They do squeeze in the Fox trope of adding one F word of course which is annoying as always. The film mirrors the X-Men comics to the extent that there is a lot going on at all times. There are many plots and characters in the mix and they’re all being affected by the events in the movie. You’ve got some symbolic imagery like Magneto putting his helmet back on to return to the darkness and Xavier taking his off as he decides to go back to acting as a friend to the others rather than as a commander. The characters are all acting on pure emotion by the end so it’s easy to pick any individual character and root for him/her. It’s a very thought provoking film that also includes a lot of action so you don’t have to worry about choosing one or the other.
It’s always hard to do a very serious film without getting super dark and gritty so I’m always impressed when it happens. It’s part of why I’m going to miss Fox, they really did add a nice element to the mix. For a while we had a solid balance with DC giving us supreme movies with the best action scenes and scripts, Marvel with the most comic book accurate movies and a light hearted tone like the days of ole, and then Fox which was a very realistic take on how humans would interact with super powered fighters. DC has gone away from their approach to follow Marvel and Fox is all but over after this one. Now the only company who will still be doing their own thing is Sony which does carry part of that Fox feel within, but I can’t say that I trust them as much as I would the others. Granted, Fox churns out a lot of misses too so you just gotta keep swinging til you connect. At least now we can finally have the Avengers vs X-Men film someday although I don’t imagine something like that would happen til 2025 or later.
All in all, this is the big finale that fans of the X-Men series have been waiting for. It’s the definitive X-Men film and it’s going to be really hard to top this one. The only thing that would have made it feel even more like a finale would have been for Wolverine to have shown up for the final fights. We probably won’t be seeing any X-Men films for a very long time as I doubt anyone would even want to try and follow up on this so soon. All series have to end at some point and the goal is to end on a high note. Dark Phoenix does that and then some. It basically excels in all areas and has a lot of replay value. If you haven’t seen the film yet then I’d recommend heading out to the theaters and checking it out. You probably won’t be seeing another one like this for quite some time.