Review: X-MEN DARK PHOENIX is a somber; hopeful end to 20 years of film

by Charles Gerian

“I had to keep her stable. I protected her.”

“From the truth? There's another word for that.”

Fox's two decades of “X-Men” films came to a humble conclusion with this weekend's release of DARK PHOENIX, the final installment in a franchise that began with 2000's X-MEN directed by Bryan Singer.

DARK PHOENIX, directed and written by Simon Kinberg, takes place several years after the events of 2016's X-MEN: APOCALYPSE and lets us see a world where Charles Xavier's (James McAvoy) dreams of Mutant equality finally seems tangible.

The X-Men are a world-renowned super team that people have toys of, t-shirts, signs, they cheer for them now instead of deriding them as freaks. Professor X even has a hotline in his office that allows him to speak directly to The President. It's almost perfect...until a rescue mission just outside of Earth's atmosphere to save a NASA shuttle sees the young telepath Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorb a terrifying, massive, solar flare that turns out to be something known as “The Phoenix Force” which puts her at odds with her Mutant brothers and sisters and turns her into a ticking time-bomb.

X-MEN, as a series, has always been a moody and melodramatic soap opera that allowed its cast and players to take the spotlight from the costumed adventures and CGI fight-scenes with crazy powers. Now, these films of course had these, but they were secondary. DARK PHOENIX ends the franchise on a smaller scale film that is told through the perspective of Jean Grey and brings everything full circle to the “optimistic” future ending of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST while giving a tragic hint at the dark “final” future seen in LOGAN. It is in many ways the perfect way to close this out. The “Series finale.”

The film is very somber and everything from the visuals to the score (composed by Hans Zimmer) is drenched in mood and darkness. This is also the closest we've come to seeing the films paint Charles Xavier, the wise patriarch, as an almost antagonistic character. While the film is very much Jean', it also serves to “end” the thematic journey of Matthew Vaughn's 2011 franchise restart X-MEN: FIRST CLASS.

We see a sort of “After the Gold Rush” bit between lovers Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) as he reflects that they're the “Last of the First Class”, and Raven challenges him saying that they should be moved on with their lives by now, enjoying the world they saved numerous times. It's a valid wish, and one that doesn't appear enough in comic book films- whats the point of saving a world if you can't find peace in it?

Director Kinberg also gives us a really interesting “visual” plotline here with Professor Xavier as a destructive alcoholic. It is never a point in dialogue or the plot, but we see Xavier drinking heavily, waking up hungover, and always reaching for a bottle at the slightest emotional provocation.

It's a dark film that deals with the often unseen pitfalls of heroism, and isn't afraid to shock and awe the audience either. X-Men has always been the most mature of the big franchises, and this is no exception. That's not to say these films are all just bleak or that DARK PHOENIX is pitch-black. There's fun moments here, and there's a great ending that will bring a tear of joy to your eye where we finally see Charles and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) sit down to play a game of chess, just as how we came to know them in the early 2000's from Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.

DARK PHOENIX is a movie for X-Men fans, and a tearful send-off as 20th Century Fox being absorbed by the Disney Machine earlier this years mans all of this breathtaking legacy is now...gone...only to be rebooted in the soulless “Marvel Cinematic Universe”.

So, thank you X-MEN. You will be missed.