Writing Tips and Film Critique

The Two Obvious Problems With X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Go watch X-Men: Dark Phoenix before reading this. Thank you! 🙂

One movie franchise that hasn’t been treated well by its writers is the X-Men series of films. The first two entries, X-Men and X2: X-Men United, are a solid pair of comic book movies, but once we got to X-Men: The Last Stand, things began taking a turn for the worse, so much so that the fifth entry in the series (not counting the standalone Wolverine films), X-Men: Days of Future Past, was meant as a soft reboot to wipe away the problems of the movies previous to the first soft reboot, X-Men: First Class. Yes, it’s a mess, and yes, even the Wolverine side series was affected by the X-Men soft reboots, since they take place in the same cinematic universe. And while First Class and Days of Future Past were okay enough, let’s not even get started on how bad X-Men: Apocalypse was. After all, this post is about the seventh entry in the series, X-Men: Dark Phoenix. More specifically, we’re going to discuss the two most obvious problems in the writing.

The first problem is the jump in track that seems to occur in the film. The movie starts off well enough but goes off-track the moment the aliens become the enemy. This movie was strongest when the enemy was what was inside Jean Grey, the Phoenix powers and Jean’s inability to control them. I would’ve preferred the blonde-haired lady, rather than an alien attempting to take control of Jean, be like the consciousness of the Phoenix powers, someone who only Jean can see and hear, someone influencing Jean’s turn against everyone by whispering in her ear how no one really cares about her or how everyone is against her. She could show Jean proof of this through the lies told to Jean by others with the best of intentions. This would’ve made Jean’s drastic shift in behavior a bit more sensible as we would’ve gone on that shift with her rather than have to sit and watch as she went mad over Xavier lying to her about her past. By the way, the line in one of the trailers concerning Jean saying, “When I lose control, bad things happen, but it feels good,” wasn’t present in the movie, which is a shame because Jean finding pleasure in the bad behavior she was exhibiting through the physical expression of her pain could’ve been explored and made things more interesting in terms of how the X-Men could possibly get her back or whether she had already mentally crossed a point of no return.

This would’ve been a great angle at which to approach the story, one with a psychological edge to it that maybe some viewers could relate to, and it would’ve preserved what I feel is the strongest part of the storytelling of any good X-Men film, which is the exploration of the fact that life isn’t black and white but gray, with actions that may have good intentions behind them but can be misinterpreted by one side or another. X-Men: Dark Phoenix does a solid job of this for a while, before it degrades into a simple story of the aliens being the bad guys while Jean just becomes good again for seemingly no reason other than the writer wanted her to be good again. Yes, the blonde-haired lady turns on Jean to steal some of Jean’s Phoenix power (with no explanation as to how it’s possible for this to occur, since the Phoenix powers were said to be drawn to Jean and no one else because only Jean could contain them), but again, this is merely where the writer decided to make the aliens the clear bad guys so that Jean could be good again despite all the terrible things she had done up to that point in the film.

The second obvious problem is that the message at the end of the movie contradicts the first part of the movie. Like Captain Marvel, Dark Phoenix attempts to pass along a message that being emotional is okay. The problem with this message stuck onto the end of the film is that no one had a problem with anyone being emotional throughout the film. Men were emotional, and women were emotional. Jean’s fury stemmed from an out-of-control burst of layered emotions that had laid dormant for a long time. In short, after young Jean’s car accident, in which she caused the death of her mother and estrangement of her father, Charles Xavier used his mind powers to make Jean forget the accident was her fault. His intention was good enough: Because Jean was so powerful, Xavier needed to put a cap on that power, and the quickest way to do that was to spare her the pain she’d feel from knowing the truth. However, this wasn’t Xavier wanting Jean not to be emotional; it was Xavier wanting to help her gain control of her emotions and her powers as a result, so she could avoid being a danger to those around her. What Xavier never got around to, though, was bringing those memories back out so Jean could deal with them responsibly, without causing harm to anyone. This is why Jean went berserk as the Phoenix powers tore down those walls Xavier placed into Jean’s mind, Xavier’s good intentions leading Jean on a road to Hell. The film, however, mixes this up with an idea that it’s not good to be emotional, taking a complex issue and simplifying it far too much for the sake of… I really don’t know why this was done.

Unfortunately, the movie never gets around to Jean dealing with her pain. I guess it would be difficult to fit years of therapy sessions into a two-hour film. Yes, there was a turning point when Xavier had Jean read his memories to discover why he did what he did, but he already explained why he did what he did, and she didn’t care before, so why would she care now? To me, it would’ve made more sense for Jean’s realization to have come from an internal connection she makes herself – going off my idea for the film, maybe Jean begins talking back to the Phoenix consciousness as they start to come to a balance of emotional expression between them (Jean sees the need to open up and express more while the Phoenix realizes the importance of not expressing so much that physical pain is caused to others) – rather than through an external source. It would’ve been nice to see some sort of light turn on in Jean’s eyes, even a pinpoint light at the end of the dark tunnel she was in, showing that not only could she contain the Phoenix powers physically but mentally as well. Maybe she convinces the Phoenix to give Xavier an opportunity, with their permission this time, to build those walls back up in her mind, at least in part to aid her in her new quest to find peace within the truth of the tragedies she caused when she was a child (and throughout the film). As it was though, by the end of the climax, all that happened was Jean realized that being emotional isn’t bad, and suddenly, she could control her powers. It was as if the writer(s) didn’t know how to bring the events of the film to a satisfying conclusion that made sense in relation to the first part of the movie.

Overall, the film has a nice start to it and even feels like a classic X-Men film for a while. But potential story threads are dropped for no reason, such as Mystique (Raven) starting to have a falling out with Xavier but being killed before anything could come of it (Beast starts having a falling out as well, but nothing comes of that either). In this, Dark Phoenix falls into the mess of the X-Men film franchise. The events of the movie, which chronologically takes place before the first X-Men movie, don’t lead the characters into their proper places for that film. Mystique is very much alive in X-Men, and thanks to the soft reboots, we have no idea how or why she joined Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants in time for the start of X-Men. We also have no idea why Xavier never sent the X-Men out into space, culminating in Jean absorbing the Phoenix powers (even though she already showed that she had Phoenix-like powers in X-Men: Apocalypse) that seem to have come from somewhere else in the other timeline. Yes, it’s a mess. It’s as if you either have to watch the first three movies, skip X-Men Origins: Wolverine (because Sabretooth so obviously wasn’t Logan’s brother in the first X-Men movie), and finish with the second Wolverine film followed by Days of Future Past and Logan, or watch First Class, skip Days of Future Past (since it references the first few X-Men movies), and continue with Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix (or skip Apocalypse to remove the idea that Jean already had Phoenix powers), though you’d have to leave out Logan, what I feel is the strongest film in the franchise by far, because, though he makes cameos, Wolverine’s story is never told in the rebooted timeline.

Yes, it’s a mess.

Thankfully, though, Dark Phoenix is the final entry in the X-Men series of films. With Disney’s purchase of the Fox film studios and all film and television assets, the X-Men franchise will eventually be reimagined by Marvel Studios, which will hopefully be a good thing. But all in all, even with everything that has gone wrong with Fox’s series of X-Men films, I have to say that it’s been an enjoyable and interesting ride, to say the least. There is a part of me that wishes Disney didn’t buy Fox simply because it would’ve been fun to see what the movie after Dark Phoenix would’ve looked like. Would watching the continued mess of the franchise have become more fun than the actual stories in the series?

What did you think of X-Men: Dark Phoenix? What did you love? What did you not love? Leave a comment below. I want to hear from you. I really do. I’m not just saying that.

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