Dark Phoenix Is A Dank Failure

The last X-Men movie was delightful, whereas the last X-Men movie was abysmal! (The pedantic distinction is confusing.) Fox let the co-writer of X-Men: The Last Stand, Simon Kinberg, remake his own crappy movie! Even my The Wages of Cinema pals tapped out on Dark Phoenix. They have no sense of masochism! I was thinking about just writing a whole blog about why I’m not excited about this movie, but I don’t know how many times I can do that after missing the Hellboy reboot. (They took it away just as I was getting motivated to see a matinee.) So I’m doing this SPOILERY review solo! (Don’t worry; I bought a ticket to Godzilla: King of the Monsters instead of supporting this financially.) Shocking no one, this movie is not good. You know who is legitimutantly awesome though? Sauron! Please skip this review to the part where I extol his virtues.

The movie begins with two sequences that are good. After young Jean Grey accidentally makes her parents’ car crash, she’s adopted by Charles Xavier. This is Xavier at his most empathetic & inspiring, of which we don’t see often enough. Then we flashfoward to see the X-Men use teamwork to save Peter “not namechecked” Corbeau & other astronauts. Cyclops can shoot optic blasts through a special periscope on the Blackbird X-Jet! Storm holds the oxygen in the spaceship while Nightcrawler & Quicksilver tag team rescue  astronauts! (Quicksilver is less overpowered in zero gravity, losing his ability to generate music videos that put the surrounding movies to shame.) Whilst telekinetically holding the damaged shuttle together, Jean is zapped by the Phoenix nameless Force. Could I actually be presently surprised by this film? Sadly the rest of the movie happens.

We are once again deprived of the iconic scene of Jean Grey bursting out of water dressed like Captain Marvel SHAZAM surrounded by a fiery bird halo. Since her teammates wear boring uniforms, this costume drastic costume change would be even more momentous in the stodgy movieverse. The previous outing showed Jean manifesting as Phoenix in the climax, but here she needs to bond with the Phoenix Force in space. It wouldn’t be an X-Men film without blatant disregard for basic continuity! (This is a weird callback to The Last Stand ignoring the Phoenix aura setup in the second movie’s coda. The comics also can’t make up their minds about whether Jean Grey is a distinct entity from Phoenix.) Here Jean doesn’t manifest the flaming Phoenix until she goes poof in space at the climax. She still gets called Phoenix long before this though. Instead of getting black eyes & veins, this one has the moderately better design of energy crackling through her skin. Phoenix never looks like a Goddess.

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Job the Lawnmower Man will see them both in court.

I found her wooden in Apocalypse & Game of Thrones, but Sophie Turner surprised me by putting in a solid performance for the titular role despite not being Famke Janssen. (She’s the fifth billed though.) Unfortunately Kinberg’s script lets her down. In The Last Stand, Dark Phoenix degrades into a mannequin after disintegrating Xavier. I’d thought this was a consequence of grating The Cure onto her story. Jeanix is also sidelined here after (less lethally) confronting  Xavier. She’s knocked out with power dampeners (not even the coronet Beast made bespoke), which would’ve been a great opportunity to show how her powers expanded had they not worked on her. Why would Kinberg decide he needed to spend less screentime developing the main character? We barely met her in the last movie & rushing right into her becoming Dark Phoenix is no way to develop emotional bonds.

This version of Jean is saddled with more childhood trauma than Janssen’s because she inadvertently caused a fatal car crash. (This is another effect of Days of Future Past’s time travel.) Giving her a troubled past misses the point of TDPS that power corrupts even the well adjusted. Professor X didn’t put mental blocks in her in the comics, so giving her a reason to be upset makes Dark Phoenix less unpredictably volatile. (Chuck did enough sketchy stuff in the comics that the movies don’t need to invent new ones for him.) It initially seemed like Xavier sealed off a split personality, but Dark Phoenix is shown to just be confused Jean. So mental blocks are pointless if they’re doing Phoenix’s cosmic origin. Turner doesn’t get to play grandiose mania. Much of her dialogue is about being afraid of her uncontrollable power, but she looks to have gotten a pretty good handle on it. Her powers don’t appear to have been drastically amplified until the climax, which further undercuts the story’s tension.

Things escalate quickly once Jean learns that her dad survived the crash that killed her mom. When the X-Men confront her at her childhood home, she accidentally kills Mystique (because Jennifer Lawrence is tired of the makeup). Nothing about this sequence feels earned. If her teammates gave her some space to cool down & talk things out with her dad, it seems like the rest of the movie could’ve been avoided. Fridging Mystique merely makes her exes, Beast & Magneto, team up for vengeance. Quicksilver is also incapacitated for having too much power & personality.

Magneto is the leader of an island commune for mutants granted to him by the US government. It’s supposed to be Genosha, but it’s never identified as such. It’s also not mentioned that Genosha was a metaphor for Apartheid South Africa before Magneto tried to reshape it into a mutant homeland. Genosha is the epitome of fan service that’s had all the significance stripped from it.

There was much speculation that Bryce Dallas Howard Jessica Chastain would be portraying an important character like Lilandra, Deathbird, D’Ken, Emma Frost, Mastermind, Miss Sinister, or Cassandra Nova. Her mystery role is … Vuk? The first time the X-movies fully commit to aliens they go for the D’Bari? (I was really expecting the Shi’ar since they’re active participants in  Chris Claremont’s & John Byrne’s The Dark Phoenix Saga.) They kind of fill the Hellfire Club’s plot function. I should be happy they went obscure but they don’t commit to them being goofy looking celery humanoids. They’re just generic shapeshifters who made me appreciate Captain Marvel’s handling of Skrulls even more. The D’bari homeworld was the big casualty of Dark Phoenix in the comics, but here it was destroyed by the Phoenix Force offscreen before the film’s start. Instead of using that to build sympathy for the survivors, they’re generic alien invaders who plan to steal its power to kill all humans for … actually there is no reason. The movie about peaceful coexistence just decided to go as xenophobic as possible.

I like seeing the X-Men do superheroics, so seeing them be recognized by the public was nice even if the President’s X-phone is goofy. (Despite being a period piece, he seems weirdly not to be George HW Bush.) The notion they can’t afford any mutant outburst lest the public turn on them was intriguing. Sadly the movie doesn’t go far enough with this. On the heels of two disastrous Jean confrontations with human police & military, Xavier isn’t concerned with his team fighting Magneto’s on a crowded NYC street. For someone so worried about public perception, he knows nothing of deescalation. Magneto extracting a subway car to batter down the D’Bari’s door may be the coolest but least necessary display of power.

Storm fights a new character named Anki (not obscure Red Lotus, as earlier reported) with prehensile deadlocks. It is absolutely insulting that he puts up a fight against the mistress of the elements. Couldn’t they have at least gotten Senyaka? How the D’bari are any match for both Storm & Magneto beggars belief. Selene is present as a knife-wielding psychic. Why didn’t they make her Chastain’s character? An ancient mutant sorceress would be a much worthier foe to the Dark Phoenix. One-note Vuk is such a waste of Chastain. (It’s amusing that Turner & Chastain swapped hair colors for this.)

We get the closest to seeing Nightcrawler swashbuckle during the train fight. Unfortunately he appears to mercilessly kill a few D’Bari. This feels wrong given he’s a devout Catholic stigmatized for looking alien.

It sounds like the ending was changed at the last minute to make it as non-epic as possible. The finale is Vuk coming to take the remainder of the Phoenix Force that Jean hadn’t yet granted her. Putting aside how stupid it is that a rando celery alien can wield a portion of that power, Vuk is arguably the true Dark Phoenix. Rather than Jean having to reconcile becoming the villainess of her own story, the conflict is externalized into dueling Phoenixes. Jean tries to vaporize Vux on Earth, but Vux threatens to disintegrate Cyclops along with her. So Jean flies her into space to kill her. Then Jean’s atomized molecules recombinate into a giant blazing Phoenix! It’s about damn time! This whole sequence felt neither thrilling nor tragic. The end of DOFP already spoils that she eventually returns to Earth in human form, possibly to be killed by Xavier going senile.

In the original arc, Shi’ar Empress Lilandra, an ally to the team & Xavier’s paramour, sentences Jean to death for eating a sun & destroying the D’Bari planet. Although she betrayed the team to the Hellfire Club during a psychotic break, the X-Men fight on her behalf against the superior might of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. Rather than let her teammates die for her or risk losing control again, Jean nobly commits suicide. It’s a uniquely tragic end that hasn’t been matched no matter how often Marvel tries. So the whole emotional crux of the famous story has once again been omitted from its adaptation.

Although set three decades after First Class, none of the four actors from that have aged noticeably. This is only excusable in Mystique. Interestingly Beast’s makeup does appear more grizzled, yet his wrinkles vanish when he reverts (at will?) to Hank McCoy. The years will suddenly catch up to Magneto in the year 2000.

At the end of Apocalypse, the team traded in their black paintball gear for unique colorful costumes. Now they’re in black & yellow uniforms meant to be Frank Quitely’s New X-Men suits that somehow look much cheaper than cosplayers’. This is just like how DOFP abandoned the classic Magneto helmet from the end of First Class! Cyclops’s visor just has a tiny button on one side instead of dials on both to adjust his beam emissions. There is no Phoenix costume, Dark or otherwise. (Janssen’s crimson trenchcoat doesn’t look as uninspired in comparison.) Everyone looks so banal.

There’s finally an appearance by Dazzler. Her powers look like pixie dust. She doesn’t get to have dialogue, participate in any missions, or explore the intersection of mutantcy & musical career. She’s wearing her ABBA outfit despite the film being set in 1992. (There’s really no need for this to be set in the 90’s aside from the X-prequels insisting only one worthwhile mutant event happens per decade.) I still think The Gifted could’ve made better use of her had it been renewed.

No Lana Condor as Jubilee is a bummer. (She’s the highlight of Deadly Class, a show I don’t mind being cancelled, unlike Happy! I can’t believe Swamp Thing got axed before I even saw an episode.) Hopefully the MCU will give her the respect she deserves.

Not only did producer Simon Kinberg write the entire thing himself, this is even his directorial debut. (There are rumors he shot some scenes for earlier X-movies & Fant4stic whilst Bryan Singer & Josh Trank were being unprofessional.) His movie looks like a quality product that avoids the schlock of some earlier installments. It’s not stellar, but it is competent. After the space mission, however, it’s missing the imaginative spectacle needed. His action scenes are mostly retreads that are even less impressive now than when superhero movies weren’t predominant. Watching vehicles get flipped stops being thrilling the umpteenth time it occurs. We get it; the celery are highly resistant to bullets. Mutants mostly wear civilian clothes so everyone not blue looks generic. There are large talky swaths that halt the momentum with dullness. Had he been directing a superior screenwriter’s script, this could’ve been a solid part of the franchise.

The Last Stand is not a good movie, but it does have a few scenes I genuinely like. While it upset purists (well, even more diehard purists than I am), Dark Phoenix killing Cyclops & Professor X was really ballsy. It made her a threat on a more personal scale than the comics. (Was anybody really upset by her inadvertent D’Bari genocide?) Meanwhile Mystique’s death feels hollow. At least The Cure being the focus of X-Men 3’s finale had direct ties to mutant identity politics. That script is seeming less like Zak Penn’s fault.  Even though this time was bold enough to bring it aliens, they’re developed so little yet distract so much from the interpersonal drama. The characters are neither larger than life nor are they emotionally relatable. Not only is Dark Phoenix a bad movie, it has the gall to be a bland one. This poster is more interesting than the movie.

The original story seems problematic if you simplify it to the universe being imperiled by Jean’s uncontrollable horniness. (I don’t believe it was intended as a misogynistic morality tale because Claremont’s X-Men were quite kinky.) The movie doesn’t revise its themes with more feminism. Jean’s anger is triggered by her two fathers deceiving her, but it’s not a topical metaphor because their actions weren’t predatory or malicious. (Mastermind mind controlling her into becoming the Black Queen would’ve fit.) Then Jeanix manages to kill her teammate with the most agency  & be duped by another woman. The events are so rushed & characters so shallow that Jean’s character barely arcs. While I understand the need to condense & update the story, this does nothing memorable.

Its most intriguing character is Professor X. James McAvoy is great at playing smarmy as he sucks up the adulation from humans. In a rare scene where the clunky exposition clicks, Mystique calls him out for getting all the glory whilst risking nothing. Meanwhile we see how nervous he is about humans betraying mutantkind if the X-Men’s reputation tarnishes. His anxiety is relatable, especially if you feel like you’re also representing a minority. Although what he did to Jean was unethical, he does support & encourage her. Unlike Patrick Stewart’s Xavier, he feels genuinely contrite about what he did. This may be the most well-rounded portrait of Charles Xavier, showing he’s neither the saint nor the bastard he’s often pigeonholed as. The problem is Jean doesn’t get fleshed out nearly that much.

Wolverine’s not in it because Hugh Jackman retired & not recasting Logan is the only constant in these. Kinberg claims it’s because the age difference betwixt Jackman & Turner would be too conspicuous for a love triangle, although supercentenarian Logan is too old to be courting anyone regardless. His absence is for the best as it’d become another Wolverine show & there already isn’t enough Jeanix as is.

Remember what I said about The Umbrella Academy being the best live action version of Dark Phoenix Saga? I won my own wager! Legion is also a better exploration of mental instability, failed fathers, & extreme power. Plus it namedropped the Shi’ar in what turned out not to be movie synergy. The best adaptation overall, naturally, remains the classic X-Men cartoon. That spent enough time distinguishing Jean Grey, Phoenix, & Dark Phoenix. It hewed closely to the ovular story in both interpersonal drama & space opera! It even kept the sexual subtext instead of replacing them with daddy issues.

Dark Phoenix is a damp squib. This isn’t even the finale to Fox’s X-universe since The New Mutants belatedly debuts next year. There’s no reason for this movie to exist. Instead of widening the franchise’s scope, it does as little cosmic as possible. How did they make a movie about evil alien celery this bland? Jean Grey is once again sidelined in her own story, this time with less studio shenanigans to justify it. Way to squander one of the best X-tales a second time! Vuk this dull bastardization of The Dark Phoenix Saga!

~

Marvel’s latest Uncanny X-Men relaunch started off strong. I was confused why the initial arc was called “X-Men Disassembled” when they’d only just put all the assorted teams together. Then it became clear that there were way too many characters & too few of their actions had any consequence. Maybe it wouldn’t have been as noticeable if it hadn’t been stretched out for ten issues or co-written by three authors. At the end, it appears that the reunited X-Men & their foes perish. (They actually get sent to another alternate universe so Marvel can churn out a bunch of mini-series that won’t be relevant for long.)

The next arc picks up with Cyclops & Wolverine recruiting the remaining mutants in an era where mutants are an endangered species again. But the cool thing about the relaunch was that it was free of Scott & Logan wangst duels! #11’s opening narration about all X-Men stories being the same was very on point. Matthew Rosenberg’s Multiple Man & Astonishing X-Men were fun, so it’s puzzling that he’s gone full grimdark here. There are lots of anticlimactic deaths that seem wasteful. How does Strong Guy die from jumping on a grenade when his power is to absorb energy to become stronger? After being cured of the T-O virus & retiring from the team, Wolfsbane gets beaten to death by bigots. (Even if she didn’t want to fight them, why not just run away since werewolves are much faster than people?) Maybe this won’t seem as dour if it’s revealed this is also some sort of alternate reality in the conclusion.

Marvel’s got another relaunch primed to go with Jonathan Hickman writing House of X & Powers of X while the rest of the line is cancelled for six months. They’re being hyped as containing the most important scene in X-Men history. Is hox pox contagious? Why not throw in Children of X too so we have a hat-trick with cox?

~

Jean Grey is merely a tulpa conjured by Jean Luc Picard’s love of Earl Grey tea.

WandaVision will reveal that Scarlet Witch’s powers don’t get weird because she’s secretly been Jean Grey all along!

Kate Mara was Jean Grey in Zoom. Speaking of Mara & Marvel, Fant4stic sabotaged Gambit!

This aborted X-Men vs. Fantastic Four movie sounds dumb. It’s Civil War where Mr. Fantastic cuts off Wolverine’s arms? Why not do Days of Future Present?

Wes Studi would be a good Forge.

There should be a comic titled EchoChamber starring Maya Lopez & Jonno Starsmore.

“With enough prep time, Batman…” “NIGHTCRAWLER BEAT DRACULA WITH TWO STICKS!”

I’m surprised Zaladane’s never been resurrected. Maybe she ought to be the new exemplar of permanent death after Bucky’s & Jason Todd’s betrayal.

Bluetants are the upper echelon of Homo superior.

If you draw Mystique wrong, you can always say she’s shapeshifting.

The X-Men Celebrate National Pancake Day!

The only memory I have of the Mutant X TV show is that a character named Shalimar was told by discount Hannibal Lecter that her name is an anagram of sham liar.

The top half of Alanis Morrisette’s God costume in Dogma resembles Emma Frost’s Generation X outfit.

That dismembered Wendigo leg is mocking Cannonball.

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I’ve yet to muster the courage to extract his irksome fangs.

Now that I’ve finally seen Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, I shall become invincible! (That is how invincibility works, yes?) Did James Gunn put the Pterrordactyl Pterodactyl Ghost in Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed because he realized the X-films would never do Sauron justice? (Remember the time Sauron was busted for music piracy?) Another source of pteroranodon power is Godzilla; King of the Monsters’ take on Rodan. Transformers BotBots Sour Wing reminds me of Sauron too! Meanwhile the lack of X-Men movies set in the Savage Land & Mojoverse is a constant source of infuriation.

~

Jessica Jones season three comes out next? It also looks dull.

19 thoughts on “Dark Phoenix Is A Dank Failure

  1. “Jeanix is also sidelined here after (less lethally) confronting Xavier.“

    I wouldn’t say that she was sidelined. This happened towards the end of the movie and she couldn’t have been out for more than 10 minutes.

    “rushing right into her becoming Dark Phoenix is no way to develop emotional bonds.”

    She didn’t really become Dark Phoenix in the movie. Think about it, the worse she does is accidentally kill Mystique. Doesn’t really do anything particularly evil and that was the point of the story. According to Simon Kinberg it’s about Jean taking control of her destiny.

    “Professor X didn’t put mental blocks in her in the comics”

    He actually did.

    “Much of her dialogue is about being afraid of her uncontrollable power, but she looks to have gotten a pretty good handle on it. Her powers don’t appear to have been drastically amplified until the climax, which further undercuts the story’s tension.”

    She couldn’t stop hearing other people’s thoughts and had sudden burst of telekinesis that send people flying like the people in the party and Mystique.

    “Professor X was really ballsy”

    I wouldn’t call that ballsy since he was shown to have not really died in the post-credit scene.

    Like

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