If you look up "Dark Phoenix reviews" on Google search, you’ll be jarred by the low Rotten Tomatoes score right off the bat. It’s reportedly the lowest rated X-Men movie, apparently garnering a rating worse than X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Dark Phoenix was set to be the last movie of the current X-Men arc, and it also doubles as FOX’s goodbye to the franchise before the company was bought by Disney. Which means, after Dark Phoenix, all the X-Men movies will now be produced by Marvel Studios and might even be included in the current MCU. The film’s marketing was also geared towards this apocalyptic demise of the X-Men, and there were high stakes involved for characters we’ve grown to love.
The film, as its title suggests, tells the story of a troubled telepath and a member of the X-Men, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). When she comes across this unexplainable cosmic force that ends up consuming her, she's left having to deal with power beyond the X-Men’s comprehension. Jean goes through some psychological and physical changes that make her question who she is and what she is. Meanwhile, a shape-shifting alien race led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain) threatens to steal this power from her to conquer the earth. Additionally, Dark Phoenix also explores the depths of Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) character and his relationship with his students, including Jean, Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), along with long-time friends Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender).
Is the movie as bad as the internet claims it to be? We beg to differ, and here’s why:
What I Liked About It
Sophie Turner’s performance is stellar. She plays Jean Grey with strength, fragility, and complexity.
To be honest, I was worried this would be another Captain Marvel, A.K.A. a movie that stars a Ms. Perfect female lead with zero character development. But thankfully, Jean Grey is no Carol Danvers. Sophie Turner plays the character with a sensitive navigation, shifting from one emotion to another without feeling rushed or forced. She fleshed out the role so well and so beautifully that, when you eventually reach the big fight sequence in the end, it feels so good to see her own and harness the power that was given to her.
What makes the movie so powerful is the fact that it tells the story of a girl who starts out timid and afraid, develops this sort of madness and hunger for power, but matures as she learns to control and accept it, which ultimately makes her stronger. It doesn’t feel like a blatant and commercial “girl power”—it feels genuine, rather. Sophie doesn’t try so hard to prove that Jean/Phoenix is the strongest X-Men; she doesn’t need to because she just IS. And it’s actually refreshing to not be constantly barraged by cliche “feminist” scenes or one-liners—we get it, it’s trendy and it sells, but it has to come across sincere, otherwise it’s just lip service. And I’m happy to say that Dark Phoenix is not that; it delivers in that aspect very intelligently and not just as a "clapback."
The acting from the rest of the cast is superb.
James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender prove yet again that they could never be bad in a movie, and they give these iconic characters justice with a lot of depth. I particularly liked Professor X’s arc. It was also a very unexpected turn for Jessica Chastain, whose emotionless acting hit the nail on the head for Vuk, a creepy alien leader.
It’s a slow burn.
As a fan of films that take their time, I enjoyed how Dark Phoenix gave a lot of screen time to Jean and her inner torments. More talking; less jokes (although to begin with, it didn’t feel like a comedy film anyway). Dark Phoenix starts off pretty serious and maintains that somber tone throughout the film. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I thought it works for its characters.
The soundtrack is pretty good.
If you love movie soundtracks, this film does deliver, particularly Jean’s Dark Phoenix theme when she started turning mad. It's euphoric. The song is creepy, exhilarating, and beautiful. The same can be said when Vuk entered the frame; it's haunting and alien-like. Definitely worth paying attention to!
The costumes and makeup are great!
From Jean Grey's perfectly arched brows and glossy lids, to Storm's bronzed out smokey eye makeup, to Vuk's precise and otherwordly blush punctuated by a nude cut-crease, there were a lot of beauty moments in this film that took me by surprise. Also, the costumes were a nod to the comicbooks and they were definitely a treat!
What I Didn’t Like About It
It could have been “darker.”
At some point in the film, I actually thought the violence felt “censored.” With a PG rating, the movie was definitely trying to reach a broader audience. But it would definitely have packed a more shocking and grittier punch if they raised it to R-16. Think a toned-down Logan—violent but not excessive. Jean does some crazy powerful tricks in this movie, but it doesn’t make her scary enough to warrant the downfall of the X-Men as the poster suggests. They could have amped the violence or destruction a little more without hurting the character or the story, to be honest.
It could have been helmed by a more experienced director.
Written and directed by Simon Kinberg, who also wrote the screenplay for X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dark Phoenix is actually his big screen directorial debut. Having said that, it does feel quite raw and less stylized compared to the last X-Men movies under this arc. This film feels a little bit like Logan in terms of camera work, but is sadly not as good. It’s not such a tightly edited or directed film as a whole, but it’s also not bad either.
So Should You Watch It?
I dare say yes, even just for Sophie Turner’s performance. Even if you disregard the marketing of this movie as something similar to the Endgame of the X-Men franchise, it’s actually pretty good as a standalone film. Personally, I feel like its negative reviews stem from the high expectations that have been set by the posters and PR of this movie, making it sound like a big action-packed summer blockbuster. It’s not like that at all. It's not this culminating film that'll wrap up all the X-Men movies prior. It's no The Dark Knight Rises, Captain Maerica: Civil War, Iron Man 3, or even Spider-man 3 (despite that film being terrible). Sure, if you put that weight on Dark Phoenix, the film would fail to deliver an epic conclusion. But if you enter the cinema with an open-mind, and if you like these characters and the actors behind them (because the acting is great!), then it’s honestly a good film overall—even with the lack of witty Quicksilver one-liners.