I never listen to critics. I almost never agree with them. Nonetheless the buzz around Dark Phoenix was so uniformly negative that it did eventually dampen even my hype. It doesn’t help that the last X-Men movie, Apocalypse, was a bit underwhelming.
I was a fool. The critics are wrong — Dark Phoenix is fantastic.
The film begins with the X-Men ascendant. They’ve achieved the acceptance Professor Xavier has worked so hard for, and they’re now a household name, beloved by mutants and humans alike. But the success has started to go to Xavier’s head, and after Jean Grey is nearly killed on a dangerous mission undertaken despite strident objections from Raven, events start to spiral out of control, threatening to destroy the X-Men and all that they worked to achieve.
It isn’t perfect. There’s a few minor things that made me do a bit of a double-take, and not in a good way. The writers definitely don’t understand how physics work in space, and I’m not sure I’m onboard the X-Men suddenly having Dragonball Z style power level meters.
There are times when Dark Phoenix does feel like it’s repeating the same story beats as the last take on this arc, X-Men: The Last Stand, but on the plus side this is a better movie than that was.
It also feels a bit rushed at times, and the ending feels a little too inclusive for my taste, but at the same time, “it left me wanting more” is kind of a good problem for a movie to have.
Dark Phoenix is not the best X-Men movie, but it does capture a lot of what is best about this franchise and its characters.
What strikes me most about this movie is how human all of the main characters feel. Dark Phoenix shows Xavier at his worst — he screws up badly in more than one way — but his reasoning for all of his choices feels very understandable. It doesn’t feel like it runs counter to how virtuous he’s been in the past. Indeed, it’s his very optimism and desire to always do the “right” thing that trips him up.
Dark Phoenix is about Xavier making terrible mistakes, but at no point does he feel unsympathetic. He just feels human.
The same is true of Jean Grey. This movie also takes her to a very dark place — no pun intended — but again her emotions feel valid throughout. You still feel sympathy for her.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This is what makes the X-Men special. No matter what powers they may have, they still feel like three-dimensional people, with flaws and vulnerabilities. They feel real in a way that most superheroes don’t.
Dark Phoenix is a movie that easily could have slid into the ridiculous with its godlike cosmic forces and sinister alien threats, but by focusing on nuanced characters and believable emotion, it manages to still feel grounded and relatable.
Another strength of the X-Men films that Dark Phoenix carries on is that it nails the tone very well. It’s ultimately a very optimistic movie; it’s about the power of love and compassion to conquer all. But it’s also not afraid to go to dark places when story calls for it. The victories feel earned because they come at a high price.
Dark Phoenix also does an admirable if slightly imperfect job of maintaining another strength of the X-Men: its ensemble cast. The heart of the story is Jean Grey, but lots of other characters get their spot in the sun, too. There are a few I’d like to have seen more of — especially Storm and Quicksilver — but the film does do a pretty good job of giving every cast member at least one moment where they get to be awesome, whether it’s a powerful character scene or kicking ass in battle.
Beast, in particular, gets a lot of attention, and the movie is better for it. All credit to Nicholas Hoult for a very strong performance.
This is why I don’t listen to critics. I loved this movie.
Overall rating: 8.5/10