I didn’t want the Dark Phoenix movie to begin with. I talked before about some of the reasons I’m unenthused, and I’m still not pleased about it. Now another reason why has occurred to me, one that doesn’t have anything to do with what the story is – it’s just another example of how Fox is just regurgitating tired storylines that we’ve already seen because superhero movies make a lot of money and they’re putting that, putting safe blandness, above creativity and artistry without learning from their mistakes.
What Went Wrong The First Time
The Last Stand had some excellent action sequences and the occasionally funny or heartfelt moment, but it was overstuffed, it didn’t respect the characters, Logan ended up taking Scott’s place as both the team leader and the romantic lead of the Dark Phoenix story, and Jean wasn’t even the main character of what should have been her story. It wasn’t an accurate adaptation of the comics arc, either, which would have been fine, if it had at least captured the spirit of the story. It didn’t.
I talked a lot about some of the issues I had with the handling of Scott and Jean here, mainly focusing on their treatment in The Last Stand. I’ve heard it said a lot that the reason they killed off Scott with the first thirty minutes of said movie was that James Marsden was doing Superman Returns, but I’m not actually convinced that’s what it was. It probably wasn’t the exact opposite of that, but it might have been at least partially the other way. I’d be willing to bet that even if he had stayed, much of Scott’s role would have still gone to Logan, and he’d have been cast aside again, if not killed off anyway. This is just speculation, of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the reason Marsden wanted to do Superman Returns was that he knew he’d get more to do in that movie than he did/would as Cyclops. I wouldn’t blame him at all for that. It’s remarkable how much better Richard White – the character that does not exist in the comics, and as such, had no protection by canon, the character that was created to be the disposable fiancé – got treated than Scott Summers, the leader of the X-Men.
Magneto and Mystique
I have absolutely no idea why Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender are coming back for this movie. None. This is supposed to be a Dark Phoenix movie. They don’t have any place here, aside from taking up valuable time and space. X-Men should absolutely be an ensemble story, but these aren’t characters that need to be there.
With Magneto and Mystique, they’re doing the same thing they did with Wolverine – they’re taking the lead in stories that they absolutely shouldn’t be. Lawrence very clearly doesn’t want to even be there. While Fassbender is a fantastic actor, and Magneto is a great villain, he’s been overused and been relied upon way too much. It was almost a different thing in the original trilogy, with Ian McKellan’s portrayal, because while he did play an antagonistic role in every movie, it wasn’t the same thing recycled. That can’t be said about the alternate timeline. How often are we going to replay the same old thing where Charles tells Erik that there’s still good in him? If I see it again, I’ll scream.
I heard a rumour a while ago – possibly confirmed by now? – that Genosha will feature in this. And had it been in any other movie, I’d have been delighted. But it isn’t. It’s in the story that’s supposed to be centred on Jean. If any mutant sanctuary should feature in it, it should be Utopia – the one founded by Scott where the Phoenix Five once resided. But no – it’s got to be Magneto, because what’s an X-Men movie without Wolverine if Magneto isn’t there?
This version of Mystique isn’t anything at all like the comics version. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as characters should adapt when placed into different situations and be looked at through different perspectives, but Fox clearly isn’t doing it for the story or to explore the character – they’re doing it because they like Lawrence, and it’s easier to place her in the focus when she’s not playing the villain. Apocalypse should have been the introduction of the X-Men that we know and love, but instead, it focused on Mystique training and leading them – something she had absolutely no business doing.
This is Jean’s story. Or at least, it should be. They have a chance to do things right. I can’t even tell you what The Last Stand was really about, but it definitely wasn’t Jean. Even without the cure storyline, the movie was more about Logan and even Xavier than it was Jean. Jean was an afterthought in a movie partially based on the most famous Jean-centric comic arc. The Dark Phoenix arc is supposed to be about her and her relationship with the people important to her. It’s not about her “going crazy” or being unable to control her powers. It’s about her being manipulated and scared and sacrificing herself for the people she loves.
The X-Men movies need to let other characters shine. Jean is pretty much the most powerful character in all of Marvel. She’s compassionate, she’s intelligent, she’s capable, and she deserves a hell of a lot more than a story about her “going crazy”. Scott’s my single favourite Marvel character by a huge margin as I discussed in this post, he’s arguably the lead character in X-Men as a whole, and he’s gotten shunted to the side for the past 17 years. I’m sick of it, and I want him to finally get a chance to shine. The movies have mistreated both him and Jean in a myriad of ways, and I’m really not keen on going through that again with a storyline that’s already been badly handled and that treated them terribly.
Setup in Apocalypse
We got our introduction to the Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan versions of Scott and Jean in Apocalypse, but we didn’t see much of them at all – by the end, they were newfound friends. They didn’t have the basis for their most iconic story.
In order to do the Dark Phoenix arc justice, the movie needs to be tragic. It has to rip out hearts and make the audience cry. Apocalypse didn’t build enough on the Scott Jean relationship. That’s the only time we’ve seen this version of them, and it didn’t lay the groundwork enough to make me really feel for the characters, especially when they’re so far from their comics selves.
Jean was, at least, vaguely like comic Jean – pretty nice to other people, close to Xavier, and so on. Scott, though? Scott has to be someone that’s a genius tactician, a highly skilled fighter, and the clear leader every time he’s in any group, while also being someone that wants more than anything to do the right thing and protect people. He’s got to be totally responsible and reliable and trustworthy. He needs to be a wonderfully compassionate individual, while also being the most awkward dork in the world. He has to be able to deliver the line, “Jean, you are love!” completely sincerely. He’s not that person yet, and the choices made in Apocalypse mean that Dark Phoenix will have to balance character development that makes sense in the context of the series with development that makes the movie itself work. Just like in the original trilogy, here, the characters haven’t gotten enough development for this movie to feel earned.
It’s not a question of romance. I’m not saying Jean and Scott had to begin a romantic relationship in Apocalypse to make the Dark Phoenix arc meaningful, but they needed a more profound connection, a deeper friendship, or another movie with them before the Phoenix arc. They needed to be developed as individuals. The beauty of Jean and Scott to me is that when well written, they’re best friends first. I didn’t get that impression from Apocalypse at all. Is it possible to build a powerful relationship in one movie? Sure. We’d definitely be able to care about Jean’s death, about how Scott felt about it. But with how much is going to be stuffed into Dark Phoenix, I doubt it’ll be done as well as it should be.
The movie was announced in June of 2017. It was originally slated to come out in November of this year, but was recently delayed to February 2019. The fact that it’s being delayed is a relief to me, not a disappointment, and that’s kind of a red flag. I take it as a good sign that they’re not trying to force it to meet a release date it won’t be ready for, and they’re giving themselves more time to finish the visual effects. But I feel like I should be, on some level, disappointed that I won’t get to see it sooner. I’m not.
It’s not a question of superhero fatigue, or X-Men fatigue, it’s a matter of being tired of this particular film franchise. The X-Men movies have been ostensibly in the same universe for nearly two decades. In those two decades there’s been cast changes, timeline changes, and a whole lot of continuity issues. It’s exhausting and makes very little sense (Oh, hey – it’s been running for so long, it’s started having the same issues as actual comics!). I think it’s time to start fresh.
X-Men (2000) was a genuinely bold move. It was responsible for reviving comic book movies. There’s an argument for Blade, but that had a limited audience. X-Men was much more accessible. It was a strange combination of handling a comic book movie completely seriously and being ashamed of the fact it was a comic book movie. I’m working on another post about that issue now, because there’s a lot to be said about how the movie has aged, but one thing that I don’t think can be denied is that it was revolutionary at the time. It opened in a concentration camp. It involved characters with a wide range of different powers. It paved the way for superhero movies about characters beyond Batman and Superman. But since then, Fox stopped making bold choices, stopped experimenting and trying new things. They found that centring their story around Wolverine worked for people, so they continued doing that for years. It was a waste of a lot of great casting and interesting characters. They’re inching towards going back to the type of bold storytelling that made X-Men a success, but Dark Phoenix doesn’t look like it’ll be doing much of that.
It has a lot going for it – all the goodwill from the franchise, Hans freaking Zimmer composing the score, some very popular actors. But they’re also making the same mistakes they always do, and it’s getting frustrating: giving unnecessary focus to the same few characters, even when the movie is supposed to be about someone else; cramming too much into the story; not respecting the history of the characters; telling, rather than showing. I think I’ve finally reached my limit with this franchise. Sure, I’ll watch Dark Phoenix. But it won’t be opening night, and it might not even be in theatres.