X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Before heading to the theater today, a friend of mine told me that the readers of this blog wanted me to see The Secret Life of Pets 2. Alas, I had already purchased my ticket for Dark Phoenix. However, this gives me an idea for future weeks when I am undecided as to what to see, as had happened to me previously. There was no such hesitation this weekend. No offense to my friend, but I wanted to see Dark Phoenix. Furthermore (and I did not realize this until Sunday), it came out on the same weekend as Pentecost. While I highly doubt anyone involved in the film had any idea about this timing, it was still a pretty neat tie in.

Again, as with my complaint with John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Dark Phoenix relies on the audience remembering previous installments of their franchise in order for significant parts of the movie to makes sense. Remember when Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) fell in love with Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult)? No? Apparently that happened in a previous film X-Men film. I know I saw it, but search me if I could remember that bit. And why do they care so deeply for each other? Because the movie tells you they do. Finally, why is this important? Because (spoilers) Raven is killed by Jean Grey/Phoenix (Sophie Turner), which sends McCoy into a very un-X-Men fit of rage that motivates him to seek murderous revenge. Then again, with a code name like “Beast,” I guess such behavior is not too unexpected.

I am sorry for harping on this point, and there were some limited things that I liked about Dark Phoenix. However, in thinking about this on my drive home, I was reminded of what makes art good. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. We have an emotional reaction to an image that a thousand words have to labor in order to evince. They capture in a moment what it takes hours to get to when having to read. I love a good book as much as the next person, but you can see the shared love in a painting like “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt without it needing to be explained to you, you know implicitly that something visceral going on. This is all a long way of saying that there are zero scenes of intimacy between McCoy and Raven, thus making McCoy’s reaction to her death somewhat inexplicable other than them talking about their feelings. Within the context of the film, this seems flimsy to this reviewer.

What was not flimsy in Dark Phoenix was how they handled the story arc for the main character, Jean Grey. Though there is a somewhat annoyingly repeated line “I don’t know what’s happening to me,” her story is interesting. Ignoring how there is little explanation of what this mysterious “force” that enters into her is, I could at least empathize with her. I did not know what is happening to her either. But whatever it was, it came with a lot of emotional baggage that was worked through in a logical, if violent, manner. And the X-Men stand by their erstwhile friend, which was admirable . . . even if they were all rather flat and uninteresting characters.

It was those other characters in Dark Phoenix that ultimately made it rather boring to me. They were just there to be told what to do, it seemed. The only thing that really mattered was the relationship between Jean Grey and Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). Mistakes were made in that relationship, but they were done out of love in his pseudo-fatherly role he took on for the once troubled child. Yet the argument could be made that the lesson in the end is that to forgive is divine. Given the powers of the characters involved, that idea takes on an added dimension.

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