It’s about time we had something about Jean Grey. After the slew of Logan-centric movies, as much as I enjoyed them all, I’m ready to focus on a different character.
Dark Phoenix is set a few years after Apocalypse. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), now sporting his trademark hairstyle, has finally accomplished what he’s wanted all these years: peace between humans and mutants. As such, the X-Men are trusted to save a group of astronauts from a space mission gone awry. It’s an exciting set-up and we see a few favourites return here: Raven/Mystique, Scott Summers/Cyclops, Peter/Quicksilver (my personal fave) and of course Jean Grey. Putting herself in harm’s way, Jean becomes infiltrated with a powerful force lurking in space which almost destroys her. She returns to Earth a hero and a much more confident person, but still unaware of the full extent of her new powers.
There’s a running joke/sentiment about how “Jean Grey is useless”:
Certainly, I’ve had this frustration myself, whether it be the comics, cartoons or the movies. It just hardly seems like Jean is an asset to the team, unless she’s being Charles’ lackey. So I was quite excited to finally see her do something when she should technically be one of the most powerful X-Men. Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) as Phoenix is backed up by some pretty eye-catching special effects, including floaty hair, the likes of which I haven’t been envious of since Disney’s Brave.
Unfortunately, no amount of buoyant hair can mask my feeling that I actually preferred Fammke Janssen’s Jean to this rebooted tween version. I really wanted to identify with her, but found it very difficult to empathise with a character that seemed to have only two dimensions (helpless and destructive). Actually, being unable to identify with any character at all was a problem because the script often resorted to expositions and unoriginal dialogue, turning some of my favourite mutants into cardboard cutouts of their former glory.
There are a few elements introduced in Dark Phoenix that had some great potential. With the threat from humankind now removed, a different menace was needed. Enter a new hostile alien race, hungry to harness Jean’s power for their own needs. My main beef with this though is that you never feel quite sure of what the mechanics of the alien species are. Matrix-like coats and expressionless features seem to be their M.O. but beyond that, I couldn’t tell you what their weaknesses or strengths are. In one scene, we see them in a house and then next, they’re suddenly on a train. I’m assuming they harnessed some convenient alien power here, but up till this point, I was unaware that they had the ability to teleport.
A dark past between Jean Grey and Charles is also alluded to. In an effort not to spoil anything, let me just say that I really feel like this had a lot of promise. I mean, the focus on two telepathic characters could have lent Dark Phoenix the kind of psychological thriller tension that it needed. Instead, what we see is a reveal that might as well have gone something like this:
“Hey, did you do this?”
“Yeah, I did it.”
By this time, you’re probably thinking you know precisely what to expect from Dark Phoenix. Perhaps so, but be warned that the movie seems to have made a slight departure from what you’d expect from an X-Men movie in terms of graphic violence and shock factor. I mean, hey, I’m all for scriptwriters taking some artistic licence, but when a certain X-Man (NOT Wolverine) drops an uncharacteristic F-bomb just to show how mad he is, a line may have just been crossed. Deadpool it is not, but the PG-13 label is well justified.
After all I’ve said, it should be noted that my movie buddy Jaz did enjoy Dark Phoenix and actually had a fun time. She also mentioned that she had no loyalties to the comic franchise though and didn’t feel the urge to go re-watch the other movies. Meanwhile, the me that is a born-and-raised X-Men fan will be hoping for some redemption with The New Mutants in 2020.