First of all, we stan the Queen in the North, and we fully love Sophie Turner. No one will blame you if you feel the need to support all she does by heading to the theaters this weekend and by watching the new Jonas Brothers movie. I will do neither, but you do you. The problem with Dark Phoenix is certainly not her fault. But it’s certainly someone’s, and here’s a bit of a breakdown.
Don’t Do Dark Phoenix Like That
Dark Phoenix is the finale of the X-Men franchise; they are finishing up the current stab at getting the stories of the classic comics to the big screen, and the story of Jean Grey’s turn to all powerful chaos is how they are going out. In theory, finishing up the “X-Men Past” movies with one of the most celebrated, complex and character-driven comic storylines of all time should be a great idea, but as anyone who has even a minimal amount of interest in these stories can tell you: they have certainly not given this story room enough to grow.
Fox tried this before with X-Men Last Stand, when Famke Jensen’s Jean Grey becomes a henchman of Magneto (the main villain) and goes Dark Phoenix on everyone, ending with her begging Wolverine to kill her to make her stop. Critics weren’t all too happy with that incarnation of Dark Phoenix mostly because the movie itself was plagued with bad dialogue and poor plot. But comic book fans will tell you as well: you can’t rush Jean Grey’s transformation. Dark Phoenix isn’t just an alter ego. She’s not just a switch in Jean Grey’s head. She’s a complex cause AND effect of a god-like creative force that has been at work in Jean’s life since she was a little girl.
I’m no comic book scholar, so don’t come at me with how I’m getting this analogy wrong, but think about this for a moment. There are 22 Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Tony Stark is in ten of them, and the entire saga begins with his journey and ends with his sacrifice. They are about a lot more than Tony Stark/Iron Man, but he influences every storyline, pulls so much of the universe together, and in the end has the most satisfying character arc, the most fulfilling change. It took 22 movies and 10 appearances to make that pay off. And Iron Man was a c-list Marvel character to non-aficionados before the first MCU film. They did all that with a comic book hero most people hadn’t heard of, really.
Dark Phoenix deserves no less. The X-Men are wildly popular (perhaps the most popular of the Marvel heroes prior to the MCU); Jean Grey has been around since the beginning (her codename Marvel Girl is so 60s I almost hate it); and Dark Phoenix is her most popular storyline. Over the years it was written with care and consideration. It has a beautiful three-arc narrative with details so complex and intricate that you can’t even summarize it without going down a million different rabbit holes. It’s character-driven; Dark Phoenix doesn’t pop out of Knowhere. But here we are, on the eve of another Dark Phoenix film that has no choice but to rush through and diminish such a widely beloved and important story.
Watch This Instead
If the reviews are anything to go by, you will absolutely waste your money and your time watching Dark Phoenix. Googling the movie will give you page after page of lukewarm to scathing early reviews. It has an 18% on Rotten Tomatoes. EIGHTEEN. I am all for supporting your favorite creators, actors and local theaters, but if you want a satisfying finale to this particular saga, your time might be better spent finding out what was supposed to happen. And if you don’t have the money or the motivation to read dozens of classic comics, you can get the full emotional punch by watching Comic Book Girl 19‘s EPIC X-Men History on YouTube. (We’ve talked about her channel here before).
It starts here, and Danika will masterfully take you through the major plot points. My favorite part is when she gets into the emotional gut-punch of the scene where Jean takes on a ton of radiation to save her friends and bonds herself to The Phoenix for the first time. It’s good stuff.
Going through all of these might take you about 2 hours, but that’s less than the amount of time it will take you to get to the theater, get your Skittles, watch previews of coming attractions and then be bored by a bad movie. So…pop your own popcorn and enjoy!