Dark Phoenix doesn’t do a whole lot right, to be honest, but one of its most interesting aspects is the more complex portrayal of Professor X. There’ve been times where Charles Xavier has been depicted in a darker way – the elderly and dangerous Patrick Stewart version from Logan springs to mind – but we generally think of him as the wise, morally-implacable leader of the X-Men. In this film, though, he’s arguably got blood on his hands.
As touched on in The Last Stand as well but explored deeper here, Dark Phoenix reveals that Charles has been manipulating Jean Grey since the day she arrived at his school. Not only did he not tell her that her father survived the car crash that killed her mother, but he also suppressed her memory of the event. This came out of a place of love, as he was trying to spare her feeling of guilt and grief, but the discovery of the truth is what pushes Jean to lose control once she’s possessed by the Phoenix Force – resulting in the death of Mystique.
Xavier himself, James McAvoy, certainly feels that his character’s responsible. While speaking to CBR about the Prof’s complexity, the actor explained that he feels Charles’ vanity and wish to fix the mutants in his care is his fatal flaw.
“I’ve been lucky! I think particularly in Days of Future Past and this one, he’s been really complex. He was damaged in Days of Future Past and had to heal himself, or let other people help him heal, and in this one, he’s not damaged but he’s damaging — from a good place. He’s still hurting people, you know, because he’s got this vanity and this god complex where he thinks he can fix everybody. This mantra he has, that there’s good inside everyone, that’s a beautiful thing, but I think it’s taken to the point where he feels he has to win that. He has to prove that to prove that he’s right, and that’s not necessarily the same thing as doing what’s right for the person in front of you.”
Dark Phoenix also suggests that Charles is at fault for pushing the X-Men to risk their lives as superheroes just to further his personal dreams of creating a more mutant-tolerant society. In fact, it’s him who encourages Jean to do more in the team’s space mission that causes her to become infected with the Phoenix entity.
McAvoy touched on this issue as well with CBR, saying:
“He’s also got this fatherly thing where he believes his children are capable of so much more and he’s got unlimited potential for them all. And that’s great! That sounds positive, but where does that cross over into pushing your kid too far? Not that she’s a kid, but she’s sort of like his daughter. He pushes her way too far and she suffers horribly because of it.”
It’s a real shame the rest of Dark Phoenix isn’t as rich as its depiction of Professor X. Not only has it earned the series’ lowest Rotten Tomatoes score, but it also opened to the weakest box office gross of the franchise. Ouch!