Goodbyes are hard. Goodbyes are tricky. It's not likely that anyone knew when the idea for Dark Phoenix first got pitched that this was going to be the final X-Men movie for this version of the franchise. Yet, that's where we're at, since Disney has purchased most of Fox and, in the years to come, we're going to see the mutants rebooted within the Marvel Cinematic Universe somehow. So, for better or for worse, this serves as the swan song for a franchise that has been going, in some form or another, for nearly 20 years. Unfortunately, as I said, goodbyes are hard and writer/director Simon Kinberg sadly didn't nail it. This, for most people, will probably be resoundingly fine. No more. No less.
Dark Phoenix takes the X-Men to the 90s, despite the fact that they've hardly shown any signs of aging (it's best to just ignore any continuity logic at this point, truly). The team is tasked with a dicey rescue mission in space, during which time, Jean (Sophie Turner) is hit by a cosmic force that transforms her into a version of herself that is infinitely more powerful, but also infinitely more dangerous. Wrestling with this increasingly unstable power, Jean seeks to control herself and finds an unlikely and mysterious ally who may not be what she seems. The X-Men end up going to war with one another in a fight to determine the fate of Jean and, quite possibly, the world.
Arguably, the best movies in this franchise (with the exception of Days of Future Past) have been relatively smaller in scope. Think X2 or especially Logan. Dark Phoenix is not small in scope and, what's perhaps most frustrating, is that it's at its best when it's kind of small. This movie is big. It's a bit messy. But big brings spectacle and a few sequences are rather entertaining. Granted, we've learned the "story over spectacle" lesson too many times to count, but lots of people like to go to the movies, specifically superhero movies, to see that sort of thing. This movie delivers in that department.
Simon Kinberg has been a longtime writer/producer of the series, but makes his directorial debut here. One can't help but wonder if this movie would have been served better with a more seasoned director. I would wager, if we consider as a unified body that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a low-point for the franchise, and weigh that against one's personal favorite, this will fall somewhere in the middle. 15 years ago? Who knows how we would have felt. Today, it's a somewhat underwhelming mixed bag.
I should mention that I'm looking at this as a movie and not necessarily comparing it to the source material from the world of Marvel Comics upon which it is based. So I can't say how well fans of the comics specifically will respond. I'm coming from a place of a guy who has been watching these movies for 19 years. And, even after watching what I personally consider to be a very average, if not mediocre entry in the franchise, I can honestly say that my biggest takeaway is that I'm really going to miss an X-Men movie that can just be an X-Men movie. At some point in the not-too-distant future, a new Wolverine will be living in a world alongside the likes of Spider-Man, Black Panther and countless other heroes. That's cool, but there was always something nice about mutants just being mutants in their own little world. At its best, Dark Phoenix is a reminder of how joyful that has been at times. Though, it will probably, mostly be remembered for being the final movie in this series. Not so much for the story it told. And that's unfortunate.
Yet, in a way, it's also a fitting end to this series. The X-Men movies themselves, as a whole, have been something of a mixed bag. Major highs, serious lows. Dark Phoenix has some tremendous moments. It has some bad moments. It has some standout performances. It has some seriously phoned in performances. It has moments that get to the heart of the themes Stan Lee and Jack Kirby set out to explore when the X-Men were first created. It has moments of purely unintentional humor. This movie, much like the franchise it's bringing into port, is, all at once, oh so many things. It's best enjoyed as a middle-of-the-road popcorn flick. While that may not be on the level of greatness this series has earned at times, it's just enough, and I mean barely enough, to make me miss the 20th Century Fox version of the mutants.