Three guys talking about comic books, sports, movies, TV shows and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Dark Phoenix and the Fate of X-Men Film Franchise


**Minor spoilers for Dark Phoenix below; if you care, don't say you weren't warned**

Dark Phoenix, a film which, judging by the box office returns, very few of you have actually seen, is the final film in Fox's X-Men franchise (not counting that New Mutants film which may or may not be a collective fever dream and whose hopes for an actual theatrical release if it does exist are dimming by the day). It's not very good, and though not the worst of the various X-Men films (it's more coherent than the Wolverine origin movie and, really, X-Men: Apocalypse; it also sidesteps some of the problems that bedevil Last Stand even as it repeats some others), in adapting the "Dark Phoenix Saga" for a second time, it continues to display a fundamental ignorance of what makes that story so great on the part of Dark Phoenix writer/director/producer (and Last Stand co-writer) Simon Kinberg (hot tip, things "The Dark Phoenix Saga" isn't about: Jean's childhood trauma, Professor Xavier's hubris, Magneto). But while many of the films' flaws are clearly Kinberg's doing (notably the sequences which are, inexplicably, almost beat-for-beat recreations of similar sequences in Last Stand), many of the flaws are inherited, and not entirely the fault of the film, as they are endemic of the franchise as a whole. Which is to say, the X-Men movies just aren't very fun and exciting. Or, at least, just aren't very fun and exciting in the context of modern superhero movies.

When X-Men debuted in 2000, it was not the first superhero movie, but it was, effectively, the first superhero team movie, and as such, it worked as something of a testing ground for that type of film: could a movie be made with multiple super-powered characters and not be budget-breaking mess of a film? The answer was yes, and the follow-up sequel, X2: X-Men United broke further ground by presenting some of the first truly notable super-powered action sequences of the franchise, especially for the time (chiefly Nightcrawler's attack on the White House in the film's opening moments, and Wolverine's berserker assault on Stryker's forces as they infiltrate the mansion), while also dipping its toes into a higher level of serialization than the average sequel (in its climatic death of Jean Grey, followed by the closing tease of a Phoenix-like image flying over the site of her death).


But these early X-Men films also predate the release of 2008's Iron Man & The Dark Knight, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the subsequent domination of pop culture by superhero narratives, and as such, everyone involved isn't quite sure how the more overtly comic book-y parts of the stories and character they're adapting will play with a larger, non-hardcore audience. So instead of colorful costumes, the X-Men wear black leather suits. Wolverine never puts on a mask. The Phoenix is the result of a psychic break in Jean's mind, not a cosmic force. And all throughout, the films keep front and center the central metaphor at the heart of the X-Men, the "mutants as oppressed other", fighting to protect a world that fear and hates them, mainlining the most serious, dramatic elements of the mythos, as though to assure audiences these movies are more than goofy kids stories and it's okay to like them.

And while those thematic elements of the X-Men are absolutely critical to their success as a comic book and a required element of any adaptation of the concept, the comic book stories still have a sense of fun about them, a touch of the absurd and the fantastic. The stakes may be high, but the tone doesn't have to always be dour. Even at the climax of the most tragic X-Men story, the comic book "Dark Phoenix Saga" features a metal man hurling a self-healing hairy guy with claws at a purple mohawked alien on a habitable section of the moon, and that juxtaposition, between the high drama and the fantastical genre trappings, is what makes comics great. Yet from the beginning, the X-Men films have always seemed ashamed of their comic book roots, downplaying the fun & fantastical aspects of the source material while desperately highlighting the more "grownup" dramatic elements.

Which, in a pre MCU world, was understandable. But since those early X-Men films were released, pop culture has changed. We now live in a world where two of the highest grossing films of all time feature as a central character an over-sized Grimace alien who uses colorful space gems to wipe out half the population of the universe with the snap of his fingers, yet the X-Men films remain afraid to put their characters in anything resembling a superhero costume for more than a few brief moments. The films of the MCU are bright but not fluffy, energetic & quick-witted, capable of tackling stakes both high & low and finding the right balance between theme, characterization, and superhero action. They are not always faithful adaptations of their comic book inspirations, beat-for-beat, but they capture the spirit of the stories they're adapting, both the dramatic and the absurd. They are a close approximation to a live-action comic book and, most of all, even when at their darkest, they're still fun to watch. When was the last time an X-Men movie (X-Men, not Deadpool) was fun for more than a scene or two?


Arguably, it was during X-Men First Class, the zippy, relatively-light, and, yes, fun, mid-franchise reboot of the series (though flawed, it may very well be, ultimately, my favorite of all the X-Men films; X2 is more important, in terms of showing that comic book movies can believably do big screen action, and objectively a better-made film, but these days, given the choice, I'm probably more likely to sit down and rewatch First Class again). Released about a year before The Avengers, the culmination of the first phase of the MCU, and following the twin failures of The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, First Class seemed like an attempt to both resuscitate the franchise and liven it up, to incorporate the newfound thinking about how much "comic book" a general audience will accept in their superhero movies. It still told a story about important themes, and was plenty dark (like the original film, it opens at a concentration camp), but it wasn't self-important and afraid to have fun. It seemed like a step in a necessary direction for the franchise.

But then the follow-up film, Days of Future Past, both brought back the pre-First Class cast and returned to the self-serious tone of those films. Now, if any film deserves to downplay the fun in favor of deep thematic meaning, it's one adapting a story that is as seminal in its way as "Dark Phoenix", one which first established the stakes for the entire concept of the X-Men as a whole. It also gave us one of the franchise's more entertaining action sequences, as we see the world through the eyes of a super-fast Quicksilver set to "Time in a Bottle". But it also showcased another problem of the X-Men films: they find a star in one of their actors, and then are unable to move away from that star. This problem is most apparent in the second half of the franchise in Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique, but the character's outsized role in Days in Future Past is defensible (Mystique is certainly a pivotal character involved in the original story). But because Hugh Jackman is much-loved as the much-loved Wolverine, he is shoe-horned into the story as its central character. James McAvoy's fame was growing exponentially as well, so Days of Future Past also shoehorns in an uncessary redemptive plot for Xavier. And Michael Fassbender's Magneto, a character who really has nothing to do with the original story, also gets an arc in the movie because the filmmakers weren't going to not put Michael Fassbender in their movie if they could. As a result, a story that is about the X-Men averting a dark future becomes one about the occasionally-overlapping stories of Wolverine, Xavierm, Mystique and Magneto.


Which speaks to another larger problem with the films as a whole: as much as X-Men was proof-of-concept on superhero team films, the X-Men movies are rarely about their titular *team*. Instead, they're about a few central characters (Wolverine, Professor X, Magneto, Jean Grey, Mystique and, early on, a version of Rogue) who are surrounded by other characters who comic book readers probably recognize and do the work of mentally filling in some characterization, but who play thoroughly supporting roles, at best, in the movies. Again, this is in sharp contrast to how the Marvel Cinematic Universe operates. In part because of how the MCU is built (with characters operating in both solo films and collectively as a group), the Avengers characters when appearing in Avengers movies are more than the sum of their parts - there's a sense of who the Avengers are, as a team, and how they work together (and sometimes don't), and everyone is involved in that, to some extent.

Whereas in the X-Men films, everyone who isn't one of a handful of central characters is mostly there just to react to or spark reactions in whomever is the central character of a given movie. Storm, for example, is a bedrock X-Men character in the comics, one who has under her belt story arcs and character development on par with that of Wolverine or Professor X or Jean Grey. In the movies, she exists mostly to shoot lightning at things (even when played by Academy Award winner Halle Berry). Luis, the comic relief sidekick from the Ant-Man movies, has a more developed on-screen character in two movies than Storm does in five (and don't even get me started on the films' treatment of Cyclops...).

(It's worth pausing here for a moment and acknowledging the specter of Bryan Singer in all this, who returned to the franchise he abandoned to make a similarly drab and turgid Superman movie with Days of Future Past. By all accounts, he is a terrible garbage person of the highest order, even if a court of law has yet to declare him as such, and the more the extent of just how terrible his actions are becomes apparent, the harder it becomes to separate the art from the artist. And while Singer hasn't directed all of the X-Men films, they all exist, to some extent, within the confines of his (drab & turgid) vision for the universe, and I'd be lying if I said that hasn't colored some of my recent impressions & reevaluations of the films).


Following Days of Future Past and the return of Bryan Singer, there is X-Men: Apocalypse, a film more open to its comic book roots than any previous one (Apocalypse is a very comic book villain). But it's also a mess. Apocalypse's ultimate goals are...unclear, Magneto (because we can't not have a film without Magneto, apparently) gets yet another hero-villain-hero arc, Mystique is now just one of the X-Men (because Jennifer Lawrence is now a megastar and she definitely can't not be in the movie at this point), and the rest of the promising younger cast (including future Dark Phoenix Sophie Turner) are mostly wasted (in large part because the film needs to make room for arcs for Xavier, Mystique & Magneto, and introduce a bunch of other one-note characters to stand next to Apocalypse). The best part of the movie, arguably, is its closing minutes, in which Mystique prepares to lead the X-Men in a Danger Room session while they are wearing colorful costumes representative of their comic book looks, which, combined with use of characters like Apocalypse & Psylocke in the otherwise disappointing film, suggested that, perhaps, Fox had finally learned their lesson and were willing to steer into the more fun, stylized elements of the franchise, to match the tone the MCU had been using for years, had finally shed its seeming embarrassment of its source material.

But Dark Phoenix instead steers away from all that. The final Apocalypse costumes are gone, replaced, in a sort of sartorial ouroboros, by a look inspired by the Frank Quietly-designed New X-Men uniforms which were, in turn, inspired by the more utilitarian, color-less uniforms of the original film. There are aliens in this adaptation of "Dark Phoenix", and a more cosmic origin for the Phoenix Force (the X-Men even get to go into near-outer space!), but the film remains firmly grounded and earthbound, despite opening a few months after general audiences spent billions of dollars seeing movie where Hawkeye, of all characters, tries to trade his soul on an alien world to the specter of a villain with a red skull. Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique, of course, remains front & center until she's killed off to close out the first act (because it's apparently impossible to adapt "Dark Phoenix"for film without killing off a notable character at the end of the first act), at which point Magneto, who also has nothing to do with the comic book Dark Phoenix saga but is now in charge of a version of the island nation of Genosha which the film couldn't be bothered to identify as such but exists nonetheless because Michael Fassbender demanded it, enters the fray, in order to be on hand for such classic action sequences as "the X-Men try to cross a street" and a climax which is probably the movie's best sequence but which also features inexplicable moments like Nightcrawler going on a killing spree while also instilling a disquieting sense of deja vu regarding the climax of The Last Stand. At least Wolverine doesn't kill Jean at the end of this one.


And so, Dark Phoenix concludes the film saga of the X-Men (at least for now), a middling movie suffering not only from the specific flaws of its adaptation, but from the larger flaws of its lethargic & lackluster franchise, a franchise with a confused relationship with its source material, beholden to the fame of stars playing characters who the creators believe demand the full attention of every script to the detriment of other characters with as much potential to be just as interesting & engaging, embarrassed to embrace the very elements that make these stories fun & unique in their telling. The end result is a franchise containing many films which are, on the whole, okay, a few, perhaps, that I even respect (including Logan, a film which is one of the best of the franchise but isn't really an X-Men film), but very few that I love, or even enjoy revisiting for more than the few standout scenes of each, despite all of them being based on my single favorite group of characters.

A popular meme amongst older comic book fans these days, those of us who grew up in an age when reading comic books and liking these characters was something you kept hidden from everyone else, when the world at large had yet to discover the unique charms of these modern myths, is to say something along the lines of "if I could go back in time and tell my younger self he'd one day live in a world where a movie based on the Avengers was the most popular film out there, he'd think I was crazy!". If I was to go back in time to, say, my thirteen year old self, I don't know which he'd have the harder time believing: that in the future, he'd live in a world where not one, but *twelve* movies had been made based on the X-Men and their characters, or that his adult self was mostly indifferent to all but a few of them.

31 comments:

  1. So you are saying that the funniest bit in the first X-Men movie, the "yellow spandex?" pun, was essentially the lethal act of self-stabbing and endemic of the ashamedness of its funny book origin that the franchise would eventually sink with?

    So yeah that Dark Phoenix poster and her attire in it really makes it all really feel like an inferior rip-off of Buffy season six, when Willow "went all dark phoenix" as one of the villain boys put it. Maybe they should have tried this Joss Whedon guy instead?

    You didn't mention, was the guys playing the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club any good?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So you are saying that the funniest bit in the first X-Men movie, the "yellow spandex?" pun, was essentially the lethal act of self-stabbing and endemic of the ashamedness of its funny book origin that the franchise would eventually sink with?

      Pretty much, yeah. That line is a great example of one of my complaints in microcosm. It was a funny enough line in 2000, when the campy BATMAN & ROBIN was the last comic book movie to penetrate the zeitgeist (yes, I know, Blade, but that was much more under the radar). Now, after IRON MAN & DARK KNIGHT and the MCU and Guardians of the Galaxy and Thanos and all that, and the fact that the franchise still seems embarrassed by yellow spandex, it's just...somewhere between "sad" and "maddening".

      really makes it all really feel like an inferior rip-off of Buffy season six, when Willow "went all dark phoenix"

      Pretty much, yeah. I even had that thought at one point. Right down to how, at some point, it was decided Dark Phoenix needed to have glowing veins to show she's evil (something both this film & LAST STAND did, for no good reason).

      You didn't mention, was the guys playing the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club any good?

      That's because there were no people playing members of the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club, or any members of the Hellfire Club, at all.

      Delete
    2. Oh? Isn't that Jason Wyngarde and Emma Frost on that topmost poster, right next to Storm and Kitty?

      Delete
    3. The blonde woman is Jessica Chastain as a character named Vuk. The guy is Magneto (and that's not Kitty next to Storm; that's Mystique in her "non-blue looks like Jennifer Lawrence form". Kitty is not in the film, outside of a brief appearance at the very end reminiscent of her cameo in the original X-Men film).

      Delete
    4. Austin... everything from the mention of Hellfire Club onwards was meant as a snide joke about "Dark Phoenix" missing everything Dark Phoenix. I did check Wikipedia.

      Except the D'Bari apparently have an extended role whining about the Phoenix Force and definitely not Jean Grey once destroying their planet or something. That's ridiculous.

      Delete
    5. I had a suspicion as such, but wasn't sure, so I decided to play it straight. Your point stands regardless. :)

      Delete
    6. If only Jennifer Lawrence at least had dark hair and glasses for her normal human form...

      Delete
  2. Regarding the costumes, I suggest watching the making of in X-Men 1.5 DVD (is there a blu-Ray version?). Almost all actors mentioned that they were mildly embarrassed of being in a superhero movie, and they vividly pointed that they had never heard of the X-Men before (almost as showing pride of not knowing something so embarrassing), and Bryan Singer commenting that they had done screen tests with colorful costumes but they looked ridiculous. In fact, he keeps talking about his film “The Usual Suspects” every chance the gets, trying to use it as leverage to take his X-Men serious.

    Having mentioned that, it is true that back in 2000 the audience was still not prepared for colorful costumes. It wouldn’t have worked. It was the post-Matrix world.

    Lastly, I’d like to mention that the X-Men movie franchise has very little relation to the comic book version. It’s quite clear that neither Fox nor the producers cared about the original source. It’s a very different approach to what Marvel (the film division) has done and it hasn’t worked.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Having mentioned that, it is true that back in 2000 the audience was still not prepared for colorful costumes. It wouldn’t have worked. It was the post-Matrix world.

      Yeah, I totally get that, and don't disagree. But 10-15 years later, the audience was totally fine with colorful costumes, yet the X-Men movies continued to put their characters in black leather "we're embarrassed to be based on comic book" costumes despite that, and despite having a perfect opportunity, via the First Class relaunch and Days of Future Past reboot, to change tonal & visual directions.

      Delete
    2. I don't know. Spider-Man had his own costume from the get-go, and he was accepted. Yes, he may be a special case. Doctor Doom of FF was reimagined, and horrible. The iconic looks and feels aren't iconic without reason.

      When the comic audiences notoriously won't accept any lasting changes to the characters, what damned hubris makes the movie people think anyone would give rat's ass of their "modernized reimagination"? I mean, the idiots buy rights to a character, and then use the name to do something else.

      Delete
  3. If you had told me, at the height of my comics love in the 80s, that one day a Marvel Comics movie series would exist and would be a monstrous blockbuster hit, I would have been delighted beyond belief.

    And then flabbergasted that it was the Avengers and not the X-Men.

    And then mystified that Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and the Guardians of the Galaxy were more beloved than the X-Men.

    And really pleasantly shocked to find out Black Panther not only got a movie, but got Oscar nominations!

    Everything Marvel got right with the MCU, Fox got twice as wrong with the X-Men movies. It's just a shame it'll be years before Marvel takes a crack at doing the X-Men right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's just a shame it'll be years before Marvel takes a crack at doing the X-Men right.

      As much as I love these characters and their comics, I am more than happy to let them rest a while before returning to the big screen. Maybe even a long, long while. I am just so burnt out on Fox's mistreatment of them that I don't know whether I'd even be excited for an MCU version in the near future.

      Delete
    2. "As much as I love these characters and their comics, I am more than happy to let them rest a while before returning to the big screen. Maybe even a long, long while. I am just so burnt out on Fox's mistreatment of them that I don't know whether I'd even be excited for an MCU version in the near future."

      Seconding this. After diminishing movie returns, I think the X-Men need a breather for a bit. They should wait until they have a really, really good & unique take on them, or else people will go in with the memory of Fox's run still fresh.

      Same with the Fantastic Four, although it sounds like they're casting already for that one...

      Delete
    3. The license to print money with superhero flicks isn't eternal, you know...

      Delete
    4. Except superhero movies aren't a "license to print money" now. Warner Bros. lost money on "Justice League" and "Green Lantern," Fox is losing money on "Phoenix" just as it did "F4," etc. etc.

      The superhero bubble will burst, just as the western bubble did. But, just like western films, superhero movies will continue getting made and they will continue to be box office hits if they're good. I'd much rather wait til 2025 for the MCU to get X-Men right than have them rush something out in 2021 in hopes of making a quick buck. Thankfully, Kevin Feige seems to agree as he's already hinted that we're five or more years out from the X-Men's return to the big screen.

      Delete
    5. But at the same time, the superhero flicks have "completely" taken over the century+ old medium of cinema and breaking the game at the box office. I'm not at all sure there will be a market for a re-re-booted franchise after the corrective move that's bound to happen to the medium of cinema.

      Also, Dark Phoenix, Days of Future Past, Infinity Gauntlet (as an over-arching arc) have been done/attempted at... can they go on when they can't go bigger anymore?

      Delete
    6. Again, I have to take exception. Comic book movies are the highest-grossing "genre" in Hollywood today, but the haven't reinvented Hollywood on their own. Their success is part of a larger trend towards blockbuster franchises over the past decade. Star Wars sequels and side films, Harry Potter prequels, James Bond, Pixar sequels, "Despicable Me" sequels and spin-offs, "Hunger Games," live-action "classic" Disney remakes, etc. I mean, we live in a world where four of the biggest movies of all time are from the most recent installments of the "Fast and Furious" and "Jurassic Park" series. No one would have predicted that 10 years ago, even as comic books movies were ascendant.

      With regard to every movie needing to one-up the last, again, the box office returns don't bear that out. "Iron Man 3" and "Civil War" were both lower-stakes stories compared to the world-ending threats of the Avengers movies and even "Winter Soldier," and they were $1b+ smash hits. To paraphrase an old Claremont quote, these movies are about the characters, and the fights are bullshit.

      Delete
  4. Personally, I liked and enjoyed X-men, X2, First Class, DOFP (the dark tone fit the movie, I thought), The Wolverine, Logan, and both Deadpool movies. 8 out of 12 for me is a pretty decent ration...

    But yes, as a whole, the franchise could have been much more enjoyable. They definitely to balance out the screentime the characters get and remember at the end of the day it's an ensemble.

    With regard to Dark Phoenix, I think this and The Last Stand have show that the Phoenix story needs more than one movie. It should be a 2 movie story. Part 1 deals with Jean gaining the power, her eventual corruption and descent into madness while not being able to deal with her new powers, with the final scene being her transformation into Dark Phoenix. Part 2 should be the X-men having to deal with it all and contain her, and if no other option, sacrifice her. That could work in a movie version of Dark Phoenix.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've broken the movies into three tiers, more or less. First Class, X2, Logan & Days of Future Past are at the top, the movies with the best sequences and the ones I'd be most inclined to stick with if I came across them on TV (Deadpool 2 might work its way into this category - I really love that X-Force sequence - but I need to live with it a little longer; I only saw it for the first time a few months ago). The Deadpool movies, THE WOLVERINE and the original X-MEN are in the next tier; they're fine, but I have very little desire to revisit them outside of a sequence or two (like the opening of DEADPOOL, or the train fight in WOLVERINE). Then the bottom tier of pure dreck is DARK PHOENIX, APOCALYPSE, WOLVERINE: ORIGINS and LAST STAND.

      But that said, I still have a hard time mustering much enthusiasm for even the films in the top tier, and would probably, given the choice, rather watch about 2/3 of the films in the MCU over them, even if the X-Men movies in my top tier are technically better made films than some of the lesser MCU flicks. The world of the MCU is just much more fun to hang out in.

      With regard to Dark Phoenix, I think this and The Last Stand have show that the Phoenix story needs more than one movie.

      Absolutely. Serialization is such an important part of the story, not because the original story was serialized in little chapters over years, but because the story is implicitly about the arc, about the rise and fall of Jean Grey. The fall is meaningless without the rise, yet both movies have paid lip service (at best) to the rise and rushed right to the end (to Kinberg's credit, he's said he intended to do it as two movies, and that just didn't work out for various logistical reasons outside his control, so we can only blame him for all the other pieces in the movie that didn't work & displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of how the story works).

      Delete
    2. Hmmm...my tier list would probably go like this:

      Great: X2, Logan, First Class, DOFP, Deadpool 2
      Good: The Wolverine, X-men, Deadpool
      Ok: Apocalypse
      Bad: Last Stand
      Why God Why: Wolverine: Origins

      For me, that is a decent ratio for a franchise (2/3 of the movies being good to great). I guess I see your point though; while I myself would re-watch any of the films in the top 2 tiers, I can see why others might prefer the MCU over this as a franchise, or even just to re-watch.

      "yet both movies have paid lip service (at best) to the rise and rushed right to the end"

      Exactly. 2 movies would have given Jean's arc more time to breath and still allow the other characters to have better characterization and hit more character beats.

      Delete
    3. @Teebore: Serialization is such an important part of the story, not because the original story was serialized in little chapters over years, but because the story is implicitly about the arc, about the rise and fall of Jean Grey.

      I seriously wonder whether the X-Men can be successfully adapted for film. The MCU works for the Avengers because they are "Earth's Mightiest Heroes." They come together to take down the threat, and then go their separate ways.

      The X-Men, on the other hand, live and work together, even in their downtime. They're isolated from a world that hates and fears them. Their friendships and romances are soap operatic. It's all so intensely serialized. TV really seems like the natural medium for these characters and stories, not blockbuster films.

      Delete
    4. I think X-Men Animated Series and the movies proved that our beloved mutants are made more for TV than for movie theaters. I wrote some notes imagining a 12 seasons series that would follow very closely Chris Claremont first run material and lots of the 90's. I allowed myself some some liberties (like make Storm the first X-Man) and tried to use even some ideas Claremont had at the time but couldn't go on (like Shadow King killing Professor X). I'm sorry for my bad English, I'm from Brasil.

      Delete
  5. X-Men is my favorite comic of all-time, but I despise the film franchise. Not seeing this film, just like how I skipped Apocalypse. None of these movies stand up to other great comic-to-film adaptations of other series.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yeah gotta love how Sophie Turner is listed fifth on the "Starring" list on the Dark Phoenix the Movie's Wikipedia page, after Xavier, Magneto, Mystique and Beast.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL that really is the "tl;dr" version of my entire post, honestly.

      Delete
  7. This is a really nice analysis, and hits the nail for why I've fallen out of love with these movies. I may have more enthusiasm for the films than you do, Austin (sometimes I think I'm the only comics fan who actually likes Last Stand, in spite of its cheesy dialogue and overstuffed plot), but for many years now the movies have been trending toward "shrug" territory, and Dark Phoenix was the biggest shrug yet.

    It could just be a natural case of diminishing returns: the 12th movie can't generate the same excitement as the first. But the MCU obliterates that argument. We're 22-odd movies deep, and I've never been MORE excited than I was for these last two Avengers movies.

    But the X-Men movies' dour/dark tone, and avoidance of the source material, are both excitement killers. Maybe you can get away with that stuff for a couple-few movies, but after long enough it just wears on the audience. This is supposed to be escapist entertainment, and instead it's trying to be grim and self-serious and grounded in reality.

    To be clear, I don't think a Dark Phoenix adaptation needs to adhere slavishly to the comics. The Infinity War/Endgame story is pretty freely-adapted, after all. But certain key elements HAVE to be there. E.g. you can't successfully adapt Infinity Gauntlet without the finger snap, or the cosmic stakes. And I don't think you can successfully adapt Dark Phoenix Saga without Jean first saving the universe (or at least the galaxy or something), then destroying a solar system. We need those huge iconic jaw-dropping moments. We need the stakes demonstrated.

    I would also consider Jean's suicidal self-sacrifice a key element, and while this movie kinda-sorta included it, it didn't come across clearly at all. She flew into orbit and just sorta disintegrated into a cloud of fiery space nonsense. If I weren't familiar with the comics, I doubt I'd have even known if she were alive or dead in that scene.

    One key element I think the movies have actually gotten (more or less) right: I agree that Dark Phoenix should simply be an extension of Jean's psi powers, as in the original story, and absolutely NOT a cosmic entity impersonating Jean.

    Well, here's hoping that New Mutants (a) sees the light of day, and (b) ends the Fox era on a higher note. I'm a huge horror fan, and Magik and Dani are both high on my list of favorite X-characters (and Magik in particular seems well-cast, although she is the drop-dead last character who "fits" in the grounded/realistic Fox universe), so I hold out irrational hope...

    -Jeff B

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have been spitballing the finger snap and the Gjallerbru scene as examples that you have to adapt and not reimagine the comics. The thing that alienated me from Marvel Comics around the millennial change was that they stopped believing in what they were doing and instead launched reimaginated reboot after reimaginated reboot (Heroes Reborn, Ultimate Universe). I couldn't take the films as anything other than yet another meaningless reboot that can be re-rebooted and thusly anything in it doesn't matter.

      But I would say Dark Phoenix *needs* to be slavish to the original, to the extent that it's nigh-undoable (and pointless) the second time. Changing things to do something vaguely alike it's just milking with the name. Infinity Gauntlet was re-doable, probably because of its nature as a linewide event, but Dark Phoenix is a singular beloved story. Moreover, as Austin said there's a plenty of sheer absurdity, that's part of the legend.

      tl,dr: needs more butte sex.

      Delete
    2. I mean, "Meanwhile, Wolverine trespasses the Watcher's house and threatens him. The Watcher throws him out."

      Delete
    3. @Jeff: sometimes I think I'm the only comics fan who actually likes Last Stand, in spite of its cheesy dialogue and overstuffed plot

      I will freely admit that I can be *deeply* irrational when it comes to LAST STAND, just for its treatment of Cyclops. I mean, rationally, I know that WOLVERINE: ORIGINS is an objectively worse film, but I just can't not rank LAST STAND at the bottom just for killing off Cyclops in the first ten minutes without ever making it clear he was killed off (and having nobody react to his absence) until the very end of the movie, when he has a tombstone next to Xavier's and Jean's.

      Delete
  8. Nice analysis. I probably like APOCALYPSE more than most, even though I acknowledge it has one weak script (maybe the blandest dialogue in any X-film, and, somehow, no one realized Apocalypse works best as a scheming behind-the-scenes villain who only reveals himself in the big climax...given that so much of Singer's knowledge of the lore comes from the cartoon, you'd think he would've taken lessons from its treatment of Apocalypse in S.1). I recognize there are real problems, but I also had a sense of, "aw, at least they tried to make an X-Men movie" when walking out of it.

    As a thought experiment, I've been trying to conceive of anything that could've been done to save the new movie. Let's say Kindberg had to deal with studio demands to include Lawrence and Fassbender. And Lawrence doesn't want to wear the makeup, while Fassbender says he really wants to do the Genosha storyline. Also, no shot of getting Hugh Jackman, and the public likely won't accept a new actor as Wolverine so soon after LOGAN. So, it's an X-Men movie without the most popular character.

    Meanwhile, you're trying to adapt the Phoenix story. A famously cosmic story, in a movie franchise that's defined largely by underground military complexes, Toronto doubling for New York, and budget-friendly forest set pieces. The last movie tried to go with global, big comic book stakes, and was savaged by critics only did okay money.

    Now you're told at the last minute you're only getting one movie, not two. What on earth do you do with this? Also, if you had to choose, which is more essential to the original story -- the cosmic elements, or the Hellfire Club/corruption thread? There's no way to work both in, not to mention you have to deal with the larger stars who don't directly tie into the supposed lead's arc. I didn't have a lot of faith in Kindberg going into this, but you've got to wonder if he was set up to fail from the beginning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I recognize there are real problems, but I also had a sense of, "aw, at least they tried to make an X-Men movie" when walking out of it.

      I had a very similar reaction walking out of it, as well. I also appreciated that they seemed, at the end, to be setting up a more comic book-y tone for the franchise moving forward (and honestly, I may be holding it against APOCALYPSE that DARK PHOENIX decided not to pick up that baton).

      Delete

Comment. Please. Love it? Hate it? Are mildly indifferent to it? Let us know!