Rating: B-, but not a bad one.
Summary: Jean Grey realizes the extent of her powers.
I haven’t been a fan of the X-Men franchise* in a very long time, so I went into this with pretty low expectations with hope that Sophie Turner might bring it home, and I didn’t leave disappointed. If anything, I left pleasantly surprised. I actually… really liked this movie. I liked its efforts. I liked most of what I saw. I think some of the dialogue is clunky, it lacks focus, and it fluctuates a lot in tone but… I don’t think this movie deserves all the flack it’s received, nor do I think it deserves to be suffering at the box office.
I’d even say I’d rather watch Dark Phoenix over Captain Marvel. Hear me out!
We have a very male-dominated landscape when it comes to comic book movies, but I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again- X-Men (2000) and X-2: X-Men United (2003) kickstarted this whole comic book shebang and were incredibly progressive and inclusive. Plus, there are other franchises coming out of that early-2000s time period that had some kickass women. With those being some of my earliest memories of action movies, everything that followed felt regressive. Then, people made a huge deal about Wonder Woman making huge strides, to which I would kindly nudge them with X-Men, Resident Evil or Underworld. Even Tomb Raider! Questionable quality of those aside, we’ve had some really tough protagonists in fantasy, sci-fi, supernatural settings, what have you, where being female wasn’t a huge deal.
That being said, while everyone was demanding female-led comic book movies (rightfully so), I was too- just in a different way. I wanted a little bit more depth from Feminism 101 or “insert woman into man’s world here.” Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel were great against the current roster, but they were also very much in my face about it. I wanted something that was a little more subtle in its messages and not so on the nose- and willing to take those ideas and explore them a little further, in a more mature tone.
Enter Dark Phoenix. It’s far from perfect, but it attempts to tackle quite a bit and thematically, I think this is one of the stronger comic book movies of the past few months: trauma, repression, how women confront or accept their emotions, the societal box women feel the need to fit into, the idea of a man imposing his practice without asking if its actually within someone’s best interests, and how people seem to talk around women without directly asking what they want. It doesn’t always drive its messages home successfully- but it didn’t rely on simple comic book fluff. I appreciate the effort that went into these different layers and how it was kept in a fairly contained story.
And aside from that- this is the only recent X-Men movie* where during the action I thought, “Well, THAT was new” and found the integration of the powers more innovative than just blasting electricity surges around. The action didn’t come at the expense of the story or character development.
I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews on this movie, which I get. We’ve been conditioned to think that X-Men is a big action-packed story between Magneto and Professor X, which… this movie isn’t, but it seems afraid to fully let go of those characters and this hurts the movie’s focus. And it seems to hurt audiences too, who probably went in expecting something else. If you really enjoyed where the last few X-Men movies were going, how I can see how this one would seem like a big swerve where those main characters didn’t really get to do anything here. Like, I think this could be very similar to the argument being made with the Avengers crowd about how Captain Marvel is taking away Thor’s screen time or even how Star Wars is being taken away from boys because the story chose Rey.
But the movie is called Dark Phoenix and this is very much her story. And in seeing how I went in mostly for Sophie Turner (spectacular job), viewing her as the protagonist, her journey for autonomy, and seeing this as hers (also, low expectations)- yeah, this movie worked out nicely for me. And the bits that weren’t about her (I will never understand or care about how people got googly-eyed over Mystique), I found those far less interesting. I think there could be vast improvements- but at the end of the day, I was really intrigued by how much this movie made me consider its themes- and how much I genuinely liked it. My feminist lens approves!