Usually, superhero movies tend to become bogged down in scenes or dialogue that strictly exists for exposition purposes. So much of these movies are spent explaining character origins, motivations and why the bad guys are doing what they’re doing. “Dark Phoenix,” the latest in the “X-Men” franchise, doesn’t do any of that, which makes it a somewhat unique experience as far as comic book movies are concerned.
It’s an understatement to call the “X-Men” franchise, up until now, a little disjointed. These new movies attempted to link into the past ones by bridging a time gap in “Days of Future Past.” While the movie was exciting, this only served to convolute things further. It’s a murky storyline at best and when you begin thinking about the inconsistencies in the timeline the whole thing seems like it begins to fall apart.
However, “Dark Phoenix” isn’t a held back because the lead up to it has been a confusing ride. It exists on its own merits and does a pretty good job balancing the expected action-packed comic book movie with a deeper character study that never attempts to awkwardly explain itself.
The movie starts off without much lead up. The X-Men are called upon to save a team of astronauts stranded in space. A large cloud of mysterious energy has disabled the space shuttle and threatens the life of everyone on board, so the X-Men shoot into space to perform a dazzlingly fun rescue mission. During that time, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is blasted by the energy ball, which is absorbed by her extremely powerful mutant body.
That’s all I know about that. The movie never attempts to explain where the energy came from or what it is. This is a refreshing turn of events considering the genre. In another example of this kind of storytelling, there are also a group of super-powerful aliens searching for the energy and their origins aren’t explained, their motives are left quite unclear. Again, it’s a relief that we don’t have to sit through verbose flashback sequences that takeaway from the movie’s flow.
Grey attempts to deal with the invading energy by pushing it down and ignoring it — except she can’t ignore it as it overwhelms her in crucial moments. Her situation, though exaggerated, is an entirely human one. Many of us deal daily with personal demons that threaten to overrun our lives if we’re not careful to control them. She’s just dealing with it on a more cosmic level.
“Dark Phoenix” also has a unique narrative flow. It feels much like how “Watchmen” felt; the scenes just bleed into each other as the movie’s score becomes its own character. The score, which will end up being dreadfully underrated (because who expected “Dark Phoenix” to have a great score?), surprisingly performs a lot of heavy lifting. It creates a constant feeling of unease.
Not only was “Dark Phoenix” good, it was surprisingly great in so many unexpected ways. As the “X-Men” franchise falls under Disney’s purview no doubt they’ll seek to erase most of what was done with this new series of “X-Men” films. Still, “Dark Phoenix” will always be there as a reminder that superhero movies don’t always have to follow the same tired tropes to be effective and memorable.