Dark Phoenix, Fox’s final X-Men film, continues to garner negative headlines. Many critics and fans feel it wasn’t true to the original story. Others say director Simon Kinberg didn’t learn from his mistakes in X-Men: The Last Stand. Being released after Avengers: Endgame certainly didn’t help. In a world where MCU films go unchallenged, less streamlined films like the X-Men are forced to evolve, or suffer.
When considered on its own merits, however, Dark Phoenix is hardly the worst X-Men installment, a sentiment many fans will argue. Here are 10 reasons Dark Phoenix is a greater X-Men movie than you think.
10 The Phoenix Force was Well Depicted
Unlike The Last Stand, Dark Phoenix brought the Phoenix Force to life in a way that was much closer to its comic book roots. While it may not have taken the shape of an actual phoenix until the end, the cosmic entity was more or less delivered intact, illustrated by Vuk as the cosmic flame of creation and destruction. Jean shows that to host this force is to be imbued with its unlimited power, while allowing the Phoenix to experience new sensations and feelings. Compared to the Last Stand’s depiction of this force as a dormant side of Jean’s split personality arbitrarily named Phoenix, this is much more in line with the source material.
9 Jean Grey was the Focal Point
The “Dark Phoenix Saga” is really about Jean Grey’s evolution as a character. This core narrative element was essentially forgotten in The Last Stand where, in a film franchise that revolved around Wolverine, Jean’s story was simply another way to further Logan’s character. Dark Phoenix takes back the narrative, putting Jean right in the center where she belongs. Despite Xavier and Vuk’s manipulations, Jean is allowed to prove she is more than the things that are happening to her, taking on the central role of the film.
8 Cyclops and Jean had Passion
Jean and Scott’s widely-known relationship never really shined in the original trilogy. The Logan-Jean-Scott love triangle saw Jean share a few romantic moments with Logan, and even less with Scott. In Dark Phoenix, Scott and Jean illustrate a deeper, more passionate love for one another reminiscent of the comics. They had tender moments and their chemistry was palpable. Cyclops in particular brought more to the table, demonstrating a proactive devotion to Jean not previously depicted so strongly in the films.
7 The Film Stands on its Own
Despite being the 12th film in the series, Dark Phoenix doesn’t rely on the previous movies. Generally, anyone with basic X-Men knowledge can enjoy the film without feeling like they missed something. This was great for longtime fans who didn’t need the plot and character introductions often required by new viewers. Still, those with little X-Men knowledge were given enough information to understand the self-contained narrative. Anyone going in blind would still be able to enjoy the experience, given that they understand they are starting the series at its end.
6 "Dark Phoenix" was a Passion Project
Kinberg has been transparent about his mistakes with X3 and his determination to get this adaptation right. While this may come as small consolation for some, it is refreshing to know that the film was made by someone who wanted to tell the best story they could.
For those on the fence about how the final product, knowing that it wasn’t just another money-maker brings about a sense of dedication that makes the film worth it. Not everyone may appreciate the value in that. But for those who do, it made Dark Phoenix even better.
5 "Dark Phoenix" was Made for the Fans
This film really catered to the fans. While this may have resulted in fiscal failure and negative reviews, Kinberg offered hardcore fans an “Dark Phoenix Saga” adaptation that did not pander to general audiences at the expense of the greater narrative. The film was a love letter to fans who stuck with and enjoyed the films through thick and thin for almost twenty years. For this reason, despite being a commercial failure, Dark Phoenix is gaining a cult following not unlike other past “failed” films.
4 Jean Grey had a Purpose
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of The Last Stand is that after Jean Grey becomes the Phoenix, she loses all direction and purpose. As the most powerful mutant in existence, Jean becoming a bystander with essentially no direction serves only to further Magento’s agenda and Wolverine’s character development. While Dark Phoenix may have repeated some mistakes from that film (like Phoenix’s outfit), no one can deny that this Jean had a sense of agency. Whether she was embracing the power of the Phoenix or fighting to control it, Jean was an active, autonomous character who sought to take control of her situation.
3 There Would Never be a Grand X-Men Ending
Dark Phoenix was intended to start a new chapter, not conclude the franchise. Fox’s continued tinkering with the timeline made it increasingly difficult for any X-Men film to sufficiently serve as a finale. Days Future Past would have been the most natural stopping point, but the films kept coming. The franchise was not planned out strategically, which made it both frustrating and exciting.
In contrast with today’s MCU standards, Fox’s ability to nicely wrap up the X-Men with Dark Phoenix - especially when it was not designed to be a finale - was unlikely. To enjoy Dark Phoenix, fans must take it for what it was meant to be.
2 It was Emotionally True to the Comics
Dark Phoenix has largely been accused of failing to be true to the comics, which Fox rarely was. This may be true in that Jean didn’t sport her comic book Phoenix costume. Not to mention the Shi’ar didn’t appear. But for those who accept and enjoy the more grounded nature of the films, the original narrative translates well emotionally. Throughout the film, Jean’s struggle strikes a chord with viewers in ways that are reminiscent of the comic. Even Chris Claremont, writer of the original storyline, praised the film for its emotional faithfulness to the comic.
1 "Dark Phoenix" is a True Comic Book Movie
The X-Men films have always generally been grounded in reality. While Apocalypse isn’t a fan favorite, it did change the game, bringing the X-Men into a world more reflective of the comics. Dark Phoenix went even further, incorporating many elements of the comics that shape the world of the X-Men. From going into outer space, to wearing Grant-Morrison-era team uniforms and fighting aliens, the film felt like an X-Men comic book come to life. Combine all that with a purposeful, self-contained, character-driven narrative, and Dark Phoenix becomes one of the series’ truest comic book translations.