After 19 years and 12 movies, Fox’s X-Men movie series has come to an end. Regardless of what happens with The New Mutants – which may or may not get released next year – the X-Men films are pretty much done.
How did the series come to an end?
With the release of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, which is in UK cinemas from today.
Dark Phoenix stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence and Sophie Turner and is Fox’s second attempt at adapting the Phoenix Saga, following the misjudged 2006 movie, X-Men: The Last Stand.
Before discussing my thoughts on Dark Phoenix I need to fill in a little back story to put things into context. This film has not opened on a good footing.
This movie was originally scheduled for release in November 2018 (then February 2019), so has arrived much later than planned. Filming began on Dark Phoenix before Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, so was not designed to be the final movie in the series – it is the final movie because of Disney’s desire to conclude this franchise.
Before its release, Dark Phoenix was the subject of sizeable re-shoots to alter the final act considerably. This concerned a lot of fans (myself included) and turned the film into the source of some fairly negative press.
To make matters worse, the review embargo for this movie didn’t lift until the early hours of this morning – a huge WARNING sign for any new release. Movie embargoes that lift during the 11th hour usually suggest the movie is dead on arrival.
So going into this movie I was expecting the worst. I was preparing myself to come on here tonight for an exhaustive rant about just how bad Dark Phoenix is.
But I can’t rant.
I can’t rant because I really liked this movie.
In my opinion, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is one of the strongest X-Men movies in Fox’s entire franchise. It’s certainly the bleakest – far bleaker than Logan – but this works in it’s favour, ensuring this swansong is at least different from what has come before.
It goes without saying, as the clue is in the title, this is a very dark movie. It’s also a hard movie, which maintains a sombre tone throughout, and is certainly not one for younger members of the audience.
In the same way that Logan and Deadpool presented X-movies for grown-ups, Dark Phoenix is an example of what happens when the core X-Men films mature. This is not a film looking to sell Happy Meal toys and it’s not the campy shitfest that was X-Men: Apocalypse.
Many people will dislike this film, claiming it to be too harsh, too mean spirited and too depressing. Perhaps they are correct – but that doesn’t stop it from being truly captivating.
I will say this once again: Many people will not like this movie. That’s completely fine, but this is a good X-Men movie.
This isn’t an X-Men movie with countless character cameos, designed simply to pay lip service to fans. There is a certain cameo in the film, but it’s brief and not the beginning of an endless conveyor belt of new characters.
There’s no Wolverine in Dark Phoenix. Logan is not mentioned and he’s not missed.
There is also no comedy. This isn’t a lighthearted story, with comedic overtones – it’s a relentless battle for survival which doesn’t try to balance the light and dark.
Anyone who watches this film and can’t get into it within the first 30 minutes, will not get into the remaining 90 minutes. Those also wanting a huge showdown in the vein of Avengers: Endgame will be disappointed.
This isn’t a Marvel Studios movie.
Unlike the films of the past, Dark Phoenix pairs back on the mutants, reducing the team to core members. As a result, Cyclops, Storm and Nightcrawler get more screen time than they have ever had before.
This doesn’t mean they get lots to do, but for once it feels like the characters are being given the chance to breathe. Nightcrawler in particular gets to let loose somewhat, resulting in a shocking fight sequence which calls back to the would-be assassin we were introduced to in X-Men 2.
I liked this. I liked this a lot.
With these characters being given more screen time, it means that some of the other mistakes of the past are also corrected – namely the over reliance on Mystique and Quicksilver to carry these films. These characters are not huge players in Dark Phoenix and this is a benefit to the story.
I’ve never liked Jennifer Lawrence’s take on Mystique and this time around I don’t have to worry too much about that – she is not the lead.
I like Evan Peters as Quicksilver, but his shtick has been done to death (in Days of Future Past and Apocalypse), so I’m glad that he doesn’t clog up the story too much either.
And speaking of the ‘story’, one of my biggest fears about Dark Phoenix was that it would be a complete retread of X-Men: The Last Stand. It’s not.
There are certain beats that rework moments from The Last Stand, but there are far more moments that do their own thing. Not all of them work, but for the large part the material is free to present something new.
This new material includes the introduction of the chief bad gal, played by Jessica Chastain. While she isn’t the most exciting of adversaries, she does work in the context of this tale and her character is a nice reference for comic book fans.
So how does this take on Dark Phoenix stand up to the original comics?
Not very well I’m afraid.
Those hoping for a faithful adaptation of the comics will be disappointed. There is no huge battle set on the moon, there is no showdown with the Shi’ar, and there is no Hellfire Club.
I’m OK with this.
As much as I would love to see the Dark Phoenix Saga played out as it was originally written, Fox’s series of X-Men films has never been about slavishly adapting the material – so why start now? Let Disney/Marvel Studios tell that story in a future MCU movie – it’s not needed here.
So, thumbs up then for this movie?
Yeah, pretty much.
I’d easily place this up there with some of my favourite X-Men movies and I’d happily watch it again. It isn’t perfect (far from it), but the problems are minor.
My biggest gripe is that Magneto is dragged back into this story and he’s really not needed. I love Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, but the constant contrivances to work him back into the lives of the X-Men is just tedious.
My only other problem with this film is that this does not feel like the end of the X-Men movie series. Sure, there are a few callbacks and nods to suggest this would be the end for the ‘First Class‘ team, but even so this is not really an end.
After 19 years, the film series deserved a finale similar to Endgame that allowed fans to remember the good times. Instead, this is merely another entry in the series and therefore it’s a sudden stop, rather than a steady drive to the finish line.
But then, if this film focused on wrapping up 19 years of movies, I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much as I did. I liked it BECAUSE it is just another entry.
Oh what could have been.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix is going to make a lot of enemies, but it is also going to make a lot of fans. It won’t be for everyone, but I hold my hands up and say I was wrong to doubt it.
I’m looking forward to seeing the X-Men become part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I will sure miss these guys.
*Wipes away a tear*
Want more from the X-Men? Then check out my rundown of ALL the X-Men movie timelines (there are many).