I think Deadpool said it best in his first movie: “These timelines are so confusing”. The reboot of the X-men series started out very good with X-men: First Class. The inclusion of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in a cameo tied this movie firmly to the existing X-men franchise. It turned the reboot into a prequel. Brian Singer continued the prequel concept with X-men: Days of Future Past. A movie in which actors from the original trilogy reprise their roles in scenes set in the near future. Singer’s follow up X-Men: Apocalypse was underwhelming. But it kept the prequel concept still going though the cracks were starting to appear. Cracks that only get bigger with the final X-Men movie: Dark Phoenix.
Most of the problems with the continuity are the result of the time jumps between movies. Each movie takes place about ten years after the previous movie. But they release them with an interval of approximately three years. So 80s Xavier and Magneto do not look that much older than their characters in the 60s. This feels strange especially when their characters are supposed to look like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in 2000.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix pushes the existing continuity problems to the maximum. Set in 1992 none of the characters seem to have aged considerably since their 1983 adventures in Apocalypse. Even though most of them were in their puberty. But that’s not all. Dark Phoenix also kills off a character who stars in the original trilogy, which makes things rather confusing.
The answer to this problem will probably be something in the vein of “alternative timeline” since Days of Future Past incorporated time travel. But still, it feels as if the writer just didn’t care any more. Especially considering the most notable death comes early on the movie and features a high profile actor.
But X-Men: Dark Phoenix also reuses the Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix storyline. A storyline from the comics which was already used in X-Men: The Last Stand. But since nobody liked that movie, writer/director Simon Kinberg probably thought it was OK to give it another shot. And it would have been if this was a good movie, but sadly it is not.
The main problem with X-Men: Dark Phoenix is that it is actually boring. Most of this is the result of all of the underdeveloped characters in this movie. Even the lead character of Jean Grey, who goes through a life altering transformation, is given as much depth as the first victim in a slasher movie. The only actual conflict this movie contains is how the rest of the X-Men should approach Jean. Some of them want to kill her, while others want to save her.
The plot is probably the most straightforward any X-Men movie has ever been. Jean comes in contact with a magic space cloud which unlocks not only a ton of power in her, but also repressed memories from her troubled childhood. With a certain anger she goes from place to place visiting people from her past. At every place she gets into a fight. Whether it’s with her friends, the military or even aliens. There is a big fight scene at the end between the aliens and all of the X-Men. The end.
It’s not that X-Men: Dark Phoenix doesn’t try, but attempts to give the movie some substance fall flat. There is a lot of criticism on Xavier and the choices he makes. But since the vocal critic dies in the first act the attempt to make a legitimate point dies with it. And the movie does not make up for it. By now the franchise abandons the whole racism subtext completely. Everybody loves mutants now and the X-Men are heroes. So there is also nothing to fall back on.
In a throwaway line about how the group should be called X-Women the movie tries to inject some feminism in the story. But this is never really developed further. Unless you count that both the center of the story as well as the villain are both women as feminism.
With Jean Grey being just a threat and someone who needs help, the writers thought the movie needed some actual villains. This is where the biggest addition to the cast comes in: Jessica Chastain. What she saw in this role is beyond me however. Her character is an alien in a human body who wants the power of the Phoenix and to destroy Earth. She has a CGI army the likes of which we have seen too often before. She just pops up every 20 minutes for a quick scene until she goes tête-à-tête with Grey for the big climax.
Dark Phoenix is a disappointing ending to a franchise that once kick-started the whole superhero movie genre. A franchise that has given us plenty great movies, but also some really bad ones. Dark Phoenix belongs to the latter.