The ‘Dark Phoenix’ Trailer: A Pretty Good Summary Of All My Issues With the X-Men Movies

The Last Stand was kind of a mess. Decent action movie? Sure. But it also had a confused plot, several different things crammed into what should have been multiple movies, and it had no respect for the source material. A major part of Days of Future Past was undoing that. When Logan went back, he gave Xavier his memories so he could avoid the mistakes he made the first time around. And he did. In Apocalypse, Xavier told Jean to unleash her power instead of trying to bottle it up. To not be afraid of who she was and what she could do. To embrace it. And yet, here we find he was making the exact same damn mistakes he made in the original timeline – lying to Jean and manipulating her for the sake of “protecting her”.

I mean, sure, that’s probably the closest thing to comics Xavier movie Xavier has ever been. Pretty much all his comics self ever did was lie to people and manipulate him. But said comics self also just blocked off young Jean’s telepathy temporarily, so she could focus on mastering her telekinesis first without having everyone’s voices in her head. I’m all for straying from the comics. But it has to be done in a thoughtful way. This? It feels more like it’s there because it was there in The Last Stand than because it’s a good storytelling technique that fits with the Dark Phoenix Saga.

I’m all for straying from the comics. I even wrote a post about it. Movies are movies and comics are comics. What works in a comic may not work in a movie and vice versa. And it’s more interesting to watch a story where you don’t know how it’ll end, or every plot point that’ll get you to that ending. But straying from the comics has to be done in an thoughtful way, in a way that has a clear purpose, whether it be for character development reasons or plot reasons. This doesn’t look likely to be that.

I can buy Magneto’s presence in this movie. While I can’t know until I watch the actual movie, I can imagine a lot of ways in which he could benefit the movie. Even though I would much prefer to see Utopia than Genosha, because this should centre around Jean and Scott, it makes plenty of sense that Erik’s reaction to Charles – someone that’s supposed to be helping mutants – lying to Jean and trying to block off her powers would be to create a place for mutants where no one can get to them. But Mystique? A Mystique that is absolutely nothing like her comics counterpart, played by an actress that never even seems like she wants to be there? A Mystique who took on a role of ” leading and training the X-Men” that absolutely should not be hers? I’m not into this at all.

I’m over all these endless movies of Charles telling Erik there’s still good in him, or the two being on the same side for about five minutes, or neither of them acknowledging that there’s a middle ground between sitting there and doing absolutely nothing and killing everyone standing in their way. I’m especially over their conflict happening in a movie that’s supposed to be about Jean – again. It’s gotten really repetitive. My investment in said conflict will be for one petty reason and one alone: that comics Xavier is the worst and I’m happy to see movie Xavier finally being acknowledged as a deeply flawed, manipulative person – though, going back to my first point, it really doesn’t work as part of a series and does a great job demonstrating why studios producing comic book movies should be making more standalone films and elseworlds tales, rather than instalment after instalment in a never ending franchise (that’s one of my many drafts. It…might get done).

My biggest worry about Dark Phoenix was that it was going to go the “crazy Jean that lost control route”. And from the trailer, that seems like a safe bet. I find that so unbelievably exhausting – they’re going cosmic. They’re bringing in the Shi’ar and the Phoenix Force. But they can’t avoid the gross sexism – that didn’t exist in the original comic – of “crazy chick with more power than she can handle”? I get not bringing in the Hellfire Club, but cutting out everything about Emma Frost and Mastermind manipulating her? It’s tiresome.

As I’ve said before – at this point, more times than I can remember – I’ve never been big on this idea. I love the X-Men and I love the Dark Phoenix Saga and I love Jean Grey, but I wasn’t a fan of giving this arc another try, even back when I first heard the rumour that it was going to happen. As much as I love the original comic, I have hugely conflicted feelings when it comes to everything else that’s ever pertained to the Phoenix. Maybe that means I went into watching the trailer biased against it, expecting it to be bad, and I should be more open-minded, but believe me, I’ve tried. Sure, it could be a great movie – we can’t know one way or the other until we see more – but for me, it’s kind of painfully reminiscent of The Last Stand, what with the focus on Charles and Erik and big action scenes that look awesome.

It differs from The Last Stand in a lot of ways – focusing on the Jean and Dark Phoenix story, rather than having an entirely different storyline thrown in; a different kind of action because it’s not 2006 anymore; thankfully no Wolverine – but there are still enough similarities that it seems to me like Simon Kinberg is trying to say something like I was so right back in 2006 and you all were just too dumb to see it, here, let me rework it until you get it. I wrote a post about the repercussions of misremembering the Dark Phoenix Saga on all kinds of X-Men material, and this trailer drove one thing home for sure: the public perception of the Dark Phoenix Saga as a story about a crazy woman that can’t control her powers and destroys a bunch of stuff and is manipulated by the people she cares about rather is about to be cemented, probably forever,

Advertisements

Adaptations, Source Material, and Viewer Satisfaction: My Complicated Feelings About the X-Men Movies

The X-Men movie franchise has existed for most of my life. I’ve grown up watching these movies, I have a lot of appreciation for them and looking back on them very fondly, and I think it’s important that we credit them for reviving comic book movies and allowing them to be big budget successes. And yet, when I think about them critically and objectively, I find it very hard to give a simple answer to the question, “Are the X-Men movies any good?”

Part of that, of course, goes back to the fact that they’re adaptations of comic books. The X-Men have existed for decades. There are a lot of different versions of the characters, and everyone has a different way of interpreting them. It’s impossible to please everyone. But in addition to that, there were a lot of other issues that made them a poor and unsatisfactory adaptation, at least to me. Some of the dialogue, in the original trilogy especially, is stilted. The costume design was boring. A lot of parts felt forced. There were a lot of plotholes.

What I’ve always found the most important part of the X-Men is that they’re a team. They’re a close knit family, bound together, and determined to protect both their kind and a world that hates and fears them. The movies rejected that notion. Instead of showing them as a team, they focused on Wolverine, Professor X, and Magneto and sacrificed everyone else in the process.

hated having to watch everyone else’s important storylines just given to Logan. He essentially took Scott’s place as the main hero and romantic lead during the Dark Phoenix arc when Scott was unceremoniously killed off by Jean in the first half hour of the movie. He took Kitty’s place in Days of Future Past, resulting in Kitty getting a new power that made absolutely no sense and pretty much just sitting still for the entire movie. Logan may not have been the main character of Days of Future Past – that distinction goes to Charles – but he was the heart and the character whose perspective the story was told from. It apparently wasn’t enough that Logan got three solo movies while no one else even got one – he had to get all of everyone’s storylines as well. The X-Men movies weren’t about the X-Men, they were just Wolverine and Friends.

I appreciate the changes made to Xavier’s character. The movies made him more of a hero. In the comics, he was deeply manipulative, essentially a trainer for child soldiers, and did very little to actually further the mutant cause while still being hailed as the best of them. Here, he’s legitimately heroic. I love manipulative characters that are willing to use other people as pawns to achieve their goals, but the narrative has to point that out, not gloss over it to pretend those characters are perfect heroes. Would it have been cool to see comics Xavier, with attention being drawn to his myriad of character flaws? Sure. But I’m totally fine with the version of the character that’s far less flawed and is doing the best he can to create a better world.

A lot of the performances were fabulous. Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan – they managed to demonstrate to the audience that their characters had a long history and a complicated relationship without ever needing flashbacks or a lot of expository dialogue. For all my issues with Logan’s character, I’ll still admit that Hugh Jackman is a great actor. But a lot of the actors were also wasted – James Marsden and Famke Janssen come to mind.

My favourite X-Man has always been Scott. I’ve talked about that before. The adult version of the character has never really had a solo title, but he’s been absolutely crucial to the X-Men as a team – he’s essentially the main character of the entire X-Men mythos. More than Xavier. More than Magneto. That’s how important he is. But if your X-Men knowledge comes from the films and not the comics, you end up seeing Logan as the main character, Logan as the hero and team leader, not Scott, because in the movies, he doesn’t get to do anything. He’s an adaptational wimp that never gets to be a leader or use his brilliant tactical skills and ability to beat people up with his eyes closed. He never gets to be seen as the important pillar of the school, the teacher. There’s less focus on his relationship with his love interest than there is on Logan’s relationship with her. He doesn’t even get to grieve for his fiancée’s death. James Marsden was an excellent casting choice, but he was cast to the side.

Famke Janssen is a superb actress that completely owned her role, but she got very little to work with. The Dark Phoenix saga from the comics is highly acclaimed. It was a beautifully done story, and it was about Jean loving the world, her family, Scott. It was about her choosing death over hurting them. But The Last Stand took away her choices and her agency. It didn’t pay any attention to Jean and who she was, just what she was to Logan.

Somehow, the films made the Jean Logan relationship, something I hate in the comics, an even worse concept. The directors, writers, whoever – they tried to make the audience take Logan’s creepy obsession with Jean seriously, make us view it as a tragic, romantic love story, but he knew her for a week. He knew nothing about her as a person. He thought she was hot and had an image of what she was like and decided he was somehow in love with her, but he didn’t know her. She was engaged to Scott the whole time, and the two of them were in a long term, happy relationship! Logan’s behaviour was borderline harassment at best that we were supposed to believe was love.

I’ve seen most people agree that The Last Stand wasn’t a good movie, that the first two were much better. I think it could have been great, and that in fact, a lot of the action sequences were well done, but a lot of the rest of it fell flat. X-Men United was really good, and I wanted the follow-up movie to deal with the events that happened. The story I wanted was one of grief and pushing through it. I wanted Scott missing Jean, who was his best friend and teammate in addition to being his girlfriend, but working through his grief because his team and the school still needed him. Instead, his adoptive father asked someone else to take over the school instead of bothering to talk to him about his loss and how to start moving on; he got killed off half an hour into the movie; and no one really even mourned his death.

The filmmakers tried to cram too much into the movie and didn’t do justice to any of it. The concept and morality of a cure would have been a great story to go into. The repulsiveness of the idea of suggesting that a natural part of a segment of the population is a disease to be cured and that something is wrong with that segment of the population. The reminder that it’s a complex issue and that some mutants might want to take it. The weaponization of the cure and forcible administration. I would have loved to see Scott returning from wallowing in his grief to his calm, rational, strategic self to try to deal with this. It could have been the start of a real friendship and trust being forged with Logan. It could have been a solid story that was a great character study as well as an action movie. But they killed Scott and also crammed in the Dark Phoenix arc.

The Dark Phoenix as well could have been a great movie. I’ve heard they’re going to make another one about it, but I can’t be very excited for that, because a) Jean has been involved in far more stories than just the Dark Phoenix and deserves so much better and b) it’ll probably be with Sophie Turner and not Janssen, which disappoints me for a lot of reasons that I won’t go into now. But it, as it was portrayed in The Last Stand, wasn’t really a Dark Phoenix story. It wasn’t about Jean. It was pretty much about her choosing to follow Erik instead of Charles and giving Logan something to angst over. It could have been spectacular. But it wasn’t. The entire movie just left me cold and disappointed.

When we look at the second trilogy, the alternate timeline one, my conflicting feelings deepen. Because First Class was a story about Erik and Days of Future Past was a story about Charles, and I thought both were very interesting movies with a lot of heart. But as an X-Men fan, it felt like a slap in the face for a movie to be called First Class and not include the original X-Men. Scott, Jean, Bobby, Warren – none of them was anywhere in sight. Hank was there, sure, but the rest of those characters? Nowhere. They even decided to stick Scott’s traditionally younger brother on the team in Scott’s place. Very few of those new characters were well developed. They killed off Darwin, their only black character, despite the fact that that makes no sense with his power and that his power would have made much more sense as the lynch pin of the next movie than Raven’s.

Days of Future Past was probably my favourite movie on the franchise as a whole, and that’s only partially because of how it completely undid The Last Stand and brought Scott and Jean back to life. As a movie, I think it was the best one by quite a large margin. It wasn’t necessarily a great adaptation, but it was an exceptional movie. It was a movie about found families and fighting through hard times. It was a movie about doing the right thing. It demonstrated the Erik-Charles dynamic beautifully, showing that they both have very different perspectives that stem from their personal experiences and that are both understandable. It showed how necessary and important the school is. And above all, it ended well. It ended happily and it gave them all a second chance. There were a few plot holes and continuity issues, but on the whole, I can’t really complain about Days of Future Past.

Apocalypse was much more divisive than either First Class or Days of Future Past, but while I had my issues with it, issues that were deeper than mine with Future Past, there were actually a lot of things that I appreciated a lot. The most important of them was that Logan showed up for a couple minutes, then left, and that was it. He didn’t hog the spotlight in this one. We got teenage Scott and Jean and Kurt, which was lovely – finally, some other characters got some screen time – but deeply flawed, as the interpretation of Scott was so different from the classic version of him, he felt like a totally different character that just happened to have the same name. It didn’t really focus on a specific character, so it felt more like an X-Men ensemble movie at long last, even if a lot of the characters were underused and Mystique got more screentime than she probably should have.

But even beyond too much focus on a few characters, and a lack of care being put into the details, and my frustration with them as adaptations, my main problem with the movies is how exhausting they are. There hasn’t been a real happy ending since the very first one. When you’re telling a story about a persecuted minority, of course you need to go into the struggles the people belonging to said minority face. But having all of mutantkind wiped out twice, and not facing the societal and political challenges instead of the dramatics since 2006?

I don’t have a problem with emotional weight and bittersweet endings. It’s why I love the DCEU – the movies might be too heavy for me to watch all the time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. It just means that sometimes when I’m exhausted and need something light to cheer me up, I’m going to turn on Legally Blonde instead.

So much of the franchise is excellent and enjoyable and generally well done, but there are still so many flaws that are more and more noticeable with every rewatch, it gets very frustrating and exhausting.

All of my issues with the franchise culminated with Logan. While I enjoyed watching it, after I was done, I was so tired. I was sick of Logan as a character. I was sick of never getting to see other mutants or the X-Men as a team. I was sick of the characters never getting a lasting victory or moving forward in a meaningful way.

Logan was the end of an era. It was the last movie with Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine. It was the last movie with Patrick Stewart playing Professor X. By extension, it’s very probably the last movie with any of the original actors. I’d be delighted to be wrong about that, but I very much doubt we’ll ever again see Marsden Scott, Janssen Jean, or Berry Ororo. Logan was the end of that era, and I think that while the movie may stand well on its own, isolated from the rest of the franchise, it was a weak, unsatisfactory ending.