Recently released to a lackluster critical and box office response, we couldn’t resist the temptation to watch X-Men: Dark Phoenix using the very latest in 4DX technology. Here’s our review.
Once the epitome of superhero movies, the X-Men franchise has taken a bit of a back seat in recent years. Marvel productions like the Avengers movies in particular come to mind, but one might also argue that DC-based films like Justice League, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are now more prominent at the box office than Charles Xavier’s crew of mutants. With a cast of characters and a universe that’s incredibly intriguing and full of possibilities, it feels like there’s a ton of wasted potential there.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix, in that sense, fits right in. The role that Sophie Turner’s version of Jean Grey (also dubbed Phoenix in this movie, after a near-fatal event in space) plays amongst mutants and humankind was never quite fleshed out, it feels like. Her being so incredibly powerful, you’d think that a major rebalance is in the works – but it never plays out like that.
Instead, Dark Phoenix struggles to find its identity. If considered a reboot, then it lacks the impactful plot points required to reignite the franchise and leave fans wanting more. If considered a send-off to a well-known cast, like Avengers: Endgame, then not enough character development is inserted into the story. We learn quite a bit about Jean Grey’s background, motivations and internal struggles, but what about Magneto’s? Or Xavier’s? He’s more or less recast as a fame-hungry, ego-centric character in this movie, which feels strangely at odds with Patrick Stewart’s depiction of the character in the earlier movies (set later in the timeline). There are other plot elements that also feel misaligned in that sense, giving the viewer the sense that we’re all losing track of the franchise as a whole – whereas Endgame did a great job of tying everything together.
What about the audiovisual spectacle though? At least in that sense, X-Men: Dark Phoenix delivers – though not consistently. The opening sequence in outer space is excellent, and provides a great set piece in which a crew of X-Men can show off their skills and teamwork. Later on, an assault on a train culminating in a struggle between the X-Men (joining forces with some old enemies) and a race of aliens is also a visual delight.
This is also where 4DX shines most brightly. When the X-Jet flies off into space for the aforementioned rescue, it’s great to be pushed back into your seat while powerful fans blow air into your face – as if you’re right behind the plane. Other scenes involve car crashes, a destructive confrontation in the streets and a helicopter/fight scene at Magneto’s compound – all of them great showcases of 4DX technology, which is a good fit for this movie.
We also learned that not every 4DX experience is the same. While the 4DX treatment (in terms of sensory effects) is identical across theaters, it’s worth scoping out the specs for the individual theaters. While many are repurposed screenings rooms, we saw the movie in a room specifically built from scratch for 4DX – highlights including a curved screen and one of the very first laser phosphor projectors used inside a 4DX environment. It’s a step up from the classic Xenon-powered projection method, and definitely adds to the audiovisual and sensory experience that 4DX offers. What Dark Phoenix lacks in the narrative sense, it makes up for as a cinematic experience through new technology.
Despite the narrative missteps, I still thought X-Men: Dark Phoenix was very entertaining, and I enjoyed seeing Jessica Chastain in a comic book-inspired role with her ice cold representation of Vuk, leader of the alien forces. The biggest problem facing the X-Men franchise is that the bar for superhero movies has been lifted so much in recent years that it’s struggling to keep up, and Dark Phoenix isn’t showing us that it can – despite being fun to watch. Let’s see what Disney does with the franchise in a few years’ time, once the new Marvel cycle gets underway.