(Originally this blog post was published 06/06/2019 by me on another site)
For a while I’ve known that the Dark Phoenix movie was in trouble, after hearing about bombed test screenings and re-writes and re-shoots and release date push backs…. I actually thought it might never come out.
But here it is, finally!
SPOILER WARNING! I am writing about the movie and comparing to events in the comics/cartoon.
I went to an Australian premiere session but I’d already heard rumours from the internet that it was bad, so I went in with very low expectations. So with that in mind, I find the movie okay as a stand alone thing and was entertained while watching it. I do love all the characters and the actors have done the best they can with the script they were given.
However! If we are to compare this story to the original Phoenix Saga plot, the movie falls down on shaky legs immediately as a very long story arc has been crammed into one movie when it could have easily been three! My main problem is that the Phoenix Force in the movie is presented as a malevolent evil being and not the somewhat neutral space god of death & rebirth that it is. The Phoenix only turns “dark” because it basically gets drunk on human emotions. In the original story, it joined with Jean Grey for a more noble mission to protect the M’kraan Crystal, the nexus of realities. It wasn’t until after this mission that the Phoenix Force began to become corrupted and possess Jean rather than co-exist within her.
There was a whole lot of epic space battles with an alien race called the Shi’ar that we totally missed out on in the movie and instead got a bunch of non-descript shape shifting bullet proof aliens as a stand in (they were meant to the be the race from a destroyed planet in the comics but it was kinda vague). As well as a blonde lady that was another poor stand in for the White Queen who played a part in the corruption of the Phoenix when the Hellfire Club tried to control her. So yeah what the hell was with those aliens, they could survive bullets and stay standing but a few punches from the X-men will knock them off their feet! (I’m exaggerating a little but the power discrepancies were somewhat off.)
The movie missed the mark on a few emotional notes when it came to Jean Grey. I feel like her pain and anguish was often told by other characters and not enough from her perspective. You must remember that Jean Grey and the Phoenix are two separate entities, the Dark Phoenix is feeding on her emotions and controlling her body. But it felt too much like Jean was not fighting to stay in control and simply was the one that was evil. In fact her loss of control seemed way too rushed as it literally happened on the night they returned from their mission. I felt it would have been better conveyed if they had another mission where she seemed over confident in her power. Or you know, if she was just using her powers flashily around the mansion in addition to her ” I feel great” attitude….and then losing control and going back to her usual self-doubting self.
In the comics, Jean did not accidentally kill her mother and her father did not abandon her. Her childhood trauma comes from the death of her best friend, which is when her powers awakened and she experienced her friends death through her telepathy. Charles Xavier does use his power to place blocks on Jeans power until she is old enough to control it better. The movie version has him making her forget her parents as well, which makes him look bad even if he had good intentions, which was a way to create some X-men internal drama and have the team split between “save Jean” and “kill Jean”. Over the years, the comic does have Charles do a few ethically questionable things from time to time, he’s not perfect and does have flaws…and that’s ok! (He even has his own little “Dark” episode in the form of Onslaught)
Having Jean kill Mystique was a bit harsh. Even if I’ve always felt like Raven’s character was completely out of place being on the X-men team in the movies, her movie iteration perhaps deserved better. But uh, I guess this death was the stand in for the Dark Phoenix destroying an entire planetary system. Because we sure as hell got no space battles. Either that or they just couldn’t be fucked to pay Jennifer Laurence to do an entire movie. *shrugs*
I did like that we got a little bit of Scott/Jean romance. But it seemed so fucking weird that after she blacked out after her first loss of control that he wasn’t sitting at her bedside…. or that nobody was for that matter. Emotional reactions of concern for other characters sometimes felt a bit sparse. But I guess I am used to their comic counterparts which have much closer bonds as a team.
In all honesty, if you want to sit back and experience the Phoenix Saga on your screen, the X-men Animated Series from the 90’s did it way better. Ok yeah the animation is low budget and dated now, but the main story is there (with a few swapped characters from the comic version and some slightly different outcomes). You should also be able to buy the reprinted comic version in a trade paperback collection too.
Soooo now that the Fox license for X-men movies has been handed back to Marvel / Disney I hope that I’ll get to see the X-men on the big screen sometime in the future again. They are my favourite comic heroes because not only are their stories epic, but each character has their own emotional struggles and flaws, which makes me love them even more. Some of my favourite comic issues don’t even have battles in them, they just have the X-men chilling around the mansion and being normal people….or your know normal people with super powers cheating at basketball.