Strong storylines and characters lift Dark Phoenix

Dark Phoenix limped into the box offices over its first weekend and seems destined to be a big-ticket flop. Part of the movie’s under performance, however, may be due to superhero movie fatigue.  Dark Phoenix brings a lot more onto the screen than the box office suggest. Strong storylines and layered characters lift the movie above its superhero competitors.

Dark side tempts

This Marvel movie installment puts Jean Grey, aka Phoenix (Sophie Turner) at the center of the plot. Jean is brought to Charles Xavier’s (James McAvoy) school for mutants as an eight year old in the wake of a horrific car accident. She knows she is the cause of the accident that orphans her, and the resultant insecurity over her ability to control her mutant powers becomes central to Dark Phoenix.

Intellectually, Jean knows, and wants, to use her powers to do good. But she is also torn by the confusion. She struggles against her natural-born tendencies to use her powers to destroy and dominate. When an alien race led by Vuk (Jessica Chastain) discovers a preternatural force has occupied Jean and magnified her mutant powers, the dark side becomes all too tempting.

A character driven movies with layers

Dark Phoenix is a character-driven movie with layers. While Jean Grey’s journey toward self-discovery provides the backbone to the movie, the screenwriters have paid attention to critical supporting characters as well. Xavier’s character in particular must grapple with the consequences of his decisions to shield Jean from the truth about her family and her past. Solid performances by Tye Sheridan (Cyclops), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven), and Nicholas Hoult (Beast) hold Xavier accountable. His superhero version of helicopter parenting leaves Grey poorly prepared to deal with life as an adult.

Dark Phoenix slips into cgi excess with over the top urban destruction. But the plot nevertheless remains surprisingly focused. Overall, however, strong storylines mark Dark Phoenix. They connect with real-world struggles of overcoming feelings of inadequacy, acceptance of natural abilities, and the challenges of conforming mainstream expectations.

The movie carries a strong thematic warning to parents. Despite their best intentions, their protective instincts might create a bubble that fails to equip their children with healthy coping skills. This theme strengthens the story in substantive ways. 

Author: SR Staley
SR Staley has one more than 11 literary awards for his fiction and nonfiction writing. He is on the full-time faculty of the College and Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University as well as a film critic and research fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California. His award-winning Pirate of Panther Bay series ( has won awards in historical fiction, mainstream & literary fiction, young adult fiction, and reached the finals in women's fiction. His most recent book is "The Beatles and Economics: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and the Making of a Cultural Revolution" due out in April 2020 (Routledge).