WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Dark Phoenix, in theaters now.
Word has spread and it should be clear by now that Fox's latest installment in the X-Men franchise proper, Dark Phoenix, has failed to impress critics. From the unremarkable writing to the subpar special effects, the film disappoints. However, perhaps the most disappointing part about the film is the fact that this is the last Fox X-men movie, and that it brought everything to an end on such a low note.
Following the announcement that Disney would acquire Fox, President of Production Emma Watts introduced Dark Phoenix at Comic Con in Las Vegas, announcing that it would be the "perfect send-off" for the X-Men. Is it? Judging from the reviews, Watt's words are far from accurate in the eyes of moviegoers.
It'd be easy to dismiss this failure completely. Disney has acquired Fox, meaning none of the film really matters since these characters will be introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe at some point, which is more successful both critically and financially than Fox's own superhero franchise. Even so, the X-Men franchise is still an incredibly significant part of cinematic history, and it deserved a far better ending than this.
It started in 2000. Back then, superhero films weren't exactly popular. A string of badly made comic books films from the '90s had left a sour taste in audiences' mouths; no one could take the genre seriously. Enter X-Men. It proved that there was still something special in the genre, sparking a flood of films that utilized Marvel superheroes like Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four. The release of X2: X-Men United only aided the growing popularity of superhero films. Unfortunately, the road ahead was a rocky one for the franchise.
The franchise's first attempt at adapting the famous "Dark Phoenix Saga" (written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne and illustrated by Byrne, Terry Austin and Glynis Wein) was met with mixed reviews from critics. Passionate comic book fans were far harsher in their assessments, criticizing the film's misuse of the source material and the fact that the Dark Phoenix herself was relegated to being a mere device for an inferior subplot in X-Men: The Last Stand. For a sense of how disappointingly it fared in comparison to the other X-Men films, The Last Stand holds a critic score of just 57% on Rotten Tomatoes while its predecessors, X-Men and X2, earned scores of 81% and 85%, respectively. With that, it appeared that the franchise had finally come to an end.
But Fox wasn't done with the franchise just yet. They took the most popular character, Wolverine, and made him the focus of a spinoff film. In 2009, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was released and failed spectacularly with critics and audiences. To this day, fans poke fun at the film's depiction of Deadpool, as well as its mediocre retelling of Logan's origin story, some of which conflicted with the events of the original X-Men trilogy. In hindsight, the film wasn't a complete waste. For the first time, it introduced a wider audience to Deadpool and Ryan Reynolds, the actor who would eventually play the Merc with a Mouth to great success after championing the role for years.
It was clear that, if the franchise were to stay alive, it would have to introduce something drastically different. With X-Men: First Class in 2011, the franchise found exactly what it needed. Thanks to a new cast and a fresh, new energy, the film was a hit. For comparison, it currently holds a Rotten Tomatoes score of 86%, on the level of the original trilogy -- with the exception of The Last Stand. That critical and financial success continued with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Together, both X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past grossed a whopping $1.1 billion at the box office. The future looked bright... until the next film came along.
The X-Men were free to be taken in any direction filmmakers saw fit. X-Men: Apocalypse performed well at the box office to the tune of $543 million, a sizeable contribution to the franchise's collective box office gross of almost $6 billion. Still, from a creative standpoint, it failed to justify the apparent eagerness to continue the franchise. Characters were misused consistently and everyone agreed that the plot went nowhere. Now, Dark Phoenix has seemingly proven that it was the perfect time for it all to end.
As critics have pointed out, a lot of the film exhibits a lack of creativity and energy. That's a criticism perfectly encapsulated in the film's special effects, much of which seem rushed, as though minimal effort went into such a major aspect of the film. Nothing at all like the believable visual effects that went into creating Wolverine's claws or even Mystique's skin pre-First Class.
The extensive reshoots during production must be taken into consideration. The ending, for example, was completely re-shot so that the final battle could take place on Earth, where originally it would have occurred in space. That doesn't excuse the general lack of polish.
Even from a narrative perspective, the film is slightly more faithful to the comic book saga, though it fails to utilize its characters in any meaningful way. Remember that these are the characters we've been following for almost two whole decades. We see another side of Charles Xavier, but it's too late in his story. Meanwhile, characters like Cyclops and Jean barely get any meaningful character development moments, while others like Storm, Nightcrawler, Quicksilver and even Beast sometimes act out of character and appear only to fill the screen and inch the plot along. X-Men like Storm and Cyclops ultimately never got a chance to shine throughout the franchise's run.
With any luck, Dark Phoenix will -- at the very least -- see some success at the box office -- the kind of success that reminds people how this franchise was able to win the hearts of fans all over, time and time again, until the bitter end. Sadly, the box office projections do not inspire much confidence in that regard.
So, was Dark Phoenix the perfect send-off? Far from it. This is the franchise that brought us Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, led to a successful adaptation of Deadpool and paved the way for the existence of popular superhero franchises such as the MCU and DCEU. It deserved something better than a phoenix flying across the sky above the streets of Paris. It deserved something explosive, something that would give meaning to everything these characters and this franchise have been through. It just wasn't there in Dark Phoenix.
From the ashes, this phoenix will likely rise again. This time in the hands of the MCU. Hopefully Marvel Studios can show Fox how it's done.
Directed and written by Simon Kinberg, Dark Phoenix stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters and Jessica Chastain. The film is in theaters now.