WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Dark Phoenix, in theaters now.
There is a trend of Fox's X-Men films being bombarded with vitriol by critics, whether or not they actually deserve it. Dark Phoenix is no exception. At the time of writing, the latest and final installment in Fox's mainline X-Men series currently holds a 22% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the worst reviewed film of the entire franchise.
The purpose of this article is not to point out why certain other films in the franchise are actually worse, because quite frankly, Dark Phoenix could have just been two straight hours of Professor X and Magneto slap-fighting in a Walmart parking lot, and it still would have been more watchable than X-Men Origins: Wolverine (a film that actually deserved its harsh criticism).
Rather, this piece aims to shine a light on the reasons why Dark Phoenix, in its own right, is actually a serviceable installment (and conclusion) to the X-Men series that in no way deserves the critical mauling it has been on the receiving end of.
The film is far from perfect, mind you, but it does still offer a heartfelt story and a good number of exciting fight scenes, not to mention some wonderful character moments made all the more impactful by the great job most of the main cast does.
James McAvoy is easily the MVP of Dark Phoenix and his top-notch performance is something even some of the film's detractors have acknowledged. It's clear that after starring in three prior films as Charles Xavier, he's learned how to own the role in much the same way Patrick Stewart did before him. Moreover, he revels in this new film's more cynical portrayal of Professor X, which explores the fame of the X-Men going to his head, bringing forth some rather egotistical behavior.
In Dark Phoenix, the X-Men's telepathic leader essentially becomes the poster boy for the phrase, "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions." However, Charles experiences a great deal of growth over the course of the film's runtime, learning to admit and atone for his mistakes in a way that falls right in line with the film's themes of regret and redemption.
Another member of the X-Men who gets what is arguably one of their best cinematic portrayals to date in Dark Phoenix is Cyclops. His characterization is absolutely what it should have been for an adaptation of "The Dark Phoenix Saga." Above all else, Scott is driven by his love for Jean Grey and his desire to help as the Phoenix Force begins to take hold of her, regardless of who might get in his way. This is underscored by what is probably the single best use of an F-bomb in a PG-13 X-Men movie, one that evokes a genuine sense of emotion and urgency, as opposed to simply being a gag.
It should also be noted that Tye Sheridan definitely comes into his own as Cyclops in Dark Phoenix, turning in a strong performance as an older, much more self-assured Scott Summers than the one seen in X-Men: Apocalypse. Even though Marvel Studios will likely look to wipe the slate clean when they start their own X-Men franchise, it would honestly be a travesty if those in charge didn't offer Sheridan the chance to reprise his role and keep the momentum going.
Finally, we come to the Phoenix herself, Jean Grey, played by Sophie Turner. In the months leading up to Dark Phoenix's release, countless critics insisted that Turner couldn't carry a movie of this scale. And, talk about some of the film's actual shortcomings all you want, there's absolutely no denying that Turner rose to the occasion and proved everyone wrong.
The energy and emotion put into her performance as Jean was palpable, with key scenes such as her painful reunion with her father, the various instances of her losing control of her newfound powers and, most importantly, her ultimate sacrifice during the film's climax feeling very, very real.
Speaking of Dark Phoenix having to contend with an implacable viewer base, something else that should definitely be addressed is the costumes worn by the X-Men. When Dark Phoenix's X-Men uniforms were revealed, they were initially met with praise for their comics-accuracy -- based on the uniforms designed by artist Frank Quietly for Marvel Comics' early-'00s title New X-Men.
However, by the time of the film's release, a lot of people had soured on the matching outfits, with some proclaiming that they simply should have stuck with the more personalized ones seen at the end of Apocalypse. This just goes to show how some fans and critics love to move the goalposts when it comes to these movies.
Furthermore, it's obvious that Dark Phoenix's X-Men wearing matching, slightly garish uniforms was meant to be somewhat off-putting, seeing as how they're directly criticized by Mystique while she is airing her grievances regarding the direction of the team, as well as Charles' ego. In other words, it's safe to say a fair number of viewers missed the point on that one.
One final strong point of Dark Phoenix that bears mentioning is the film's action sequences, which are some of the best in franchise's history. The fight scenes here are more than deserving of the X-Men name, with Magneto and Nightcrawler, in particular, getting to flex their mutant muscles in awesome ways. What's more, this high-caliber superhero action is handled fairly well for a first-time director like Simon Kinberg, who clearly made a conscious effort to rise to the occasion himself.
As previously mentioned, Dark Phoenix does have its problems. While some characters get great showings, others definitely could have been utilized better, namely Alexandra Shipp's Storm, Halston Sage's Dazzler and Jessica Chastain's villain, Vuk.
Additionally, the film also doesn't really make the most of its '90s setting in the same way that First Class, Days of Future Past and Apocalypse did with their respective decades. And, as far as conclusions go, it's certainly no Logan. Plus, whether or not it lives up to the classic, "Dark Phoenix Saga," is an entirely different and more complex discussion altogether.
However, the film also has a lot going for it, such as great characters, strong performances, incredibly fun action scenes and an ever-present theme of redemption that helps bring the series full-circle in what is still a satisfactory manner. With those aspects in mind, dismissing Dark Phoenix as an out-and-out bad movie, let alone the worst in the series, is honestly absurd.
Then again, negativity towards the film was anything but unexpected. Anyone who's been on the Internet for the past several months knows all too well that a lot of people had their minds made up about this movie well before it ever hit theaters and never once considered even giving it a chance, even though it definitely deserves one.
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.