Review: 'X-Men: Dark Phoenix' is an emotionally unsatisfying ending to the franchise

·Contributor
PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox
PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox

Ever since the X-Men: First Class reboot, the X-Men film franchise has revolved around three core characters — Professor X, Magneto, and Mystique. The depth of characterisation, the complexity of their relationships, and the clash between their personalities made for riveting drama amidst a backdrop of superhero fantasy (which is what the X-Men franchise has always been about anyway). But as the series continued, it started struggling to find reasons to include Magneto and Mystique into its storylines, with X-Men: Apocalypse (the previous movie) stumbling around to give the two characters something to do. X-Men: Dark Phoenix executed its premise with much more finesse than the preceding film, but it has absolutely no idea how to utilise Magneto and Mystique in its story.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix brings the current 20-year X-Men film series to a conclusion (as ownership of the franchise goes to Disney) as they face their greatest threat. When an outer space mission for the X-Men goes awry, Jean Grey finds herself endowed with phenomenal cosmic powers. As she struggles to control her abilities and make sense of it all, an extraterrestrial threat arrives to take advantage of this opportunity. It's up to the X-Men and their allies to protect humanity once again, this time from a threat that no human can withstand.

Perhaps the greatest highlight of the film is Sophie Turner's turn as Jean Grey, who becomes the Phoenix (and then the Dark Phoenix) as the film progresses. Her anxiety, confusion, and vulnerability are palpable and relatable — but her resentment, rage, and regret are, too. It's not quite a battle of warring motivations nor is it about the temptation of power. Rather, it's a permutation of the classic coming-of-age story, which is what the X-Men franchise is best at.

PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox
PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox

Character-wise, the story of Jean Grey acquiring the power of the Phoenix is one of change and growing up... but plot-wise, it's presented as a story of power and temptation. It's a fairly incongruous mismatch, since you're led to believe that the story will go in one direction while Sophie Turner's character behaves in a different way. It doesn't quite pay off this whole theme of temptation, and the plot should have been reworked to excise this odd thematic element.

Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence deliver excellent performances as Magneto and Mystique, respectively, as does James McAvoy as Professor X. But even excellent performances can't mask the fact that the film absolutely does not know what to do with Magneto and Mystique. Both of these characters have had their stories told in prior films, and there's really no room left for growth here. They're just in this film because they have to be, and it's incredibly evident in the way the plot is structured — you can almost see the writers throwing their hands up in defeat as they struggle to include the two of them.

Ultimately, the film's emotional beats (or what counts for those) are unsatisfying. In a film that's touted as the finale for the X-Men franchise, you'd expect a much better send-off for the characters you've seen grow over multiple movies. But there's not much of a send-off. Sure, there's a change in status quo. Characters are affected. Yet there's this sense that it's business as usual, and there's no real closure to the series.

PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox
PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox

The action sequences are much more fluid and innovative in this film however, and you get the sense that the X-Men are, at this point, basically a special forces team with super powers. They work well in tandem, and they counter each other's abilities in increasingly ingenious ways. It's exactly what you want to see in a movie about super-powered beings squaring off against each other.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix has its moments, like when it sticks to its core premise and delivers on the main story. It's everything else that feels incredibly lacking, from the other characters to the closure in general. It's an ignoble end to what started out as a franchise that was ripe with possibilities — and in a way, it serves as a metaphor for what happens when mutants don't live up to their potential.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? If you're an X-Men fan.

Score: 3.3/5

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 114 minutes

PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox
PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a superhero drama that's the seventh in the X-Men film franchise.

The film revolves around the rise of a cosmically powerful creature who also happens to be one of the X-Men. However, other forces are also at work to claim this power for their own, and what happens next threatens the existence of both man and mutant.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is directed and written by Simon Kinberg. It stars James McAvoy (Professor X/Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Magneto/Erik Lehnsherr), Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique/Raven Darkholme), Nicholas Hoult (Beast/Hank McCoy), Sophie Turner (Jean Grey), Tye Sheridan (Cyclops/Scott Summers), Alexandra Shipp (Storm/Ororo Munroe), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner), Evan Peters (Quicksilver/Peter Maximoff), and Jessica Chastain (Vuk). It is rated PG-13.

PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox
PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox

X-Men: Dark Phoenix opens in cinemas:
- 5 June, 2019 (Singapore)
- 5 June, 2019 (Philippines)

PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox
PHOTO: Twentieth Century Fox

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Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter, having written for popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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