The Dark Phoenix Announcement

Fox announced their plans for X-Men: Dark Phoenix yesterday, and as excited as I want to be for another X-Men movie, one in which Wolverine will not be the focus, I can’t bring myself to really care.

I’ve talked before about how I have very mixed feelings about the X-Men movies, and I mentioned there how The Last Stand ruined the Dark Phoenix saga for me by missing the point. So shouldn’t I be excited for this? They have a chance to fix their mistakes and do it right! Wolverine won’t be in it, so it won’t become all about him again. But…I’m not. I can’t be. And there are a lot of reasons for that.

The release date being next year makes no sense to me. It’s almost impossible for them to meet it, and if they do, at what cost? It’d be ridiculously rushed, and I doubt it’d be good. It’ll be a cobbled together script and shot as quickly as possible, rather than allowing for time for improvements. It’ll be made because they said they’d do it and people will go see it regardless of whether or not it’s good.

Jean has been involved in a lot more stories than just the Dark Phoenix. I’d like adaptations to stop pretending like it’s the only thing that she’s ever done and that her only good story ended with her death. I want a story that actually explores Jean. This franchise already adapted the Dark Phoenix, and it wasn’t good. Why not make something else instead of trying it again? These characters have existed for half a century. It would be so easy to pick something else instead of adapting the same story again and again.

Some of my issues with the idea of this movie go deeper and are tied to my issues with the X-Men movie franchise as a whole. McAvoy Xavier and Fassbender Magneto are great to watch, but they’re getting to be almost as frustratingly everpresent to me as Jackman Wolverine was. I don’t even like Lawrence’s Mystique, but she’s coming back, too, and why should she or Magneto be in this film at all? The creators seem so afraid of trying something new, they refuse to venture away from the status quo, regardless of whether or not it’s good.

I would have been so excited to get this movie with Famke Janssen as Jean and James Marsden as Scott. Those two embodied their characters to me. They were such excellent, underrated casting, and in a movie without Wolverine, we could finally get more focus on their relationship, both as romantic partners and as teammates/friends. That would be the second chance at a storyline that was bungled the first time. Not this.

Marsden had the poise, the confidence, necessary to pull off Scott, the leader that forces himself to repress all doubt and insecurity. He had the charisma that would have been perfect for stories about him becoming the general of mutantkind like he does in the comics. And in general, he has the talent to carry a movie. He just never got enough screentime. Despite that, he still tried – his scenes in the beginning of The Last Stand were some of the most emotional in the movie for me. Can you imagine what it’d be like to see him deliver the iconic, Jean, you are love?

Janssen had all the necessary gravitas for Jean. She could do both the uncertain, scared, still coming into her powers Jean from most of X2 as well as the confident, bold, do-what-she-has-to-do Jean at the end. She could pull off the Phoenix. She got a little more material to work with than Marsden, if not much, and despite the script treating Jean mostly like an aside that existed because Logan thought she was hot, Janssen still put in the effort and made the character her own.

James Marsden as Cyclops, Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, Halle Berry as Storm – these were the X-Men I grew up with. All of them are excellent actors, and they’ll forever be the ones I picture when I think about Scott, Jean, and Ororo. It was fantastic casting. It seems way too soon to replace them. I’m not ready to let go just yet. I remember when I saw Days of Future Past for the first time, remember that excitement and delight at seeing them back. I thought that would mean we’d get more of them. That we’d actually get them back. But no. Just a cameo that was their last appearance in the franchise. It’s so frustrating. Hugh Jackman got Logan as his swan song. He got an entire movie and a dramatic death. The other three? Just a brief cameo that brought them all the way back to the status quo of the first movie. Nothing real. Nothing conclusive. Logan could have been a great final adventure for all of them,  but they were unceremoniously killed offscreen.

DoFP brought back the X-Men and the school and stopped the Sentinels from ravaging the world. It  was beautiful and felt amazing to see. I legitimately loved the movie. But what happened at the end? Logan went right back to obsessing over Jean, despite her having been gone for years. I’d love to regard that as just him being amazed that it actually worked and that she was back and everything was okay, except he didn’t have that strong of a reaction to seeing Scott, who’d been dead for just as long. No look cast over to Ororo, despite the kiss in that deleted scene. It’s as if the creators think that undoing a bad decision is good enough, rather than having the characters learn or grow or change as a result of them.

I know I shouldn’t cling this much to the original cast. I don’t want to be like the Christopher Reeve fans who are unwilling to give any other version of Superman a chance.  But this feels different to me, because it’s new actors in the same franchise. It’s not a reboot, it’s just an altered timeline. It’s not just the new actors playing the younger version of the characters, it’s them replacing the originals. It’s barely been ten years since the last movie with all of the original cast. It feels too soon. And since they didn’t all leave together – Hugh Jackman got more solos, as well as a cameo in Apocalypse, and Patrick Stewart was in Logan – it doesn’t even feel right for them to be gone. Their stories feel unfinished. A Dark Phoenix movie with the new actors? It’s going to force me to accept that that era is over. I can do that, it just sucks to have to without proper closure.

Nothing against Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan, but the two of them seem too young to me for this story. They’re in that age where they’re technically adults, but they don’t really look it. It’s the awkward, haven’t quite grown into themselves look of people that are college age or a little bit older, like recent grads. They could probably be good in the roles – they weren’t bad in Apocalypse – but the Jean and Scott in the Dark Phoenix saga should be adults, not kids. It reminds me a little of Brandon Routh back when he played Superman – a good actor, even a good choice for the role, but still too young for the version he was given.

famke janssensophie turner

Turner doesn’t look like an adult yet. She doesn’t have Janssen’s experience, or her ability to embody the character and completely take over a scene. It still seems to me that she got cast for her name and fanbase, rather than for being a good fit for the role. I’m not saying she’s a bad actress or that she can’t pull it off, but I still barely see her as Jean. I can’t imagine her as the Phoenix.

The original trilogy meant a lot to me. X-Men (2000) pretty much invented the modern superhero movie. It was flawed, it was a little clunky and awkward, and some of it just didn’t make sense, but as a groundbreaking movie for the genre and through nostalgia, it still holds up. It was a pretty solid character intro. X2, First Class, DoFP, even Logan – those are still good movies as well. But I think the majority of the X-Men franchise has been an attempt to make a badass epic movie, an action adventure, rather than making something legitimately good. The timeline for this movie feels like it’s just going to be more of the same – just marking time, pushing out another movie that doesn’t have any reason to exist.

I don’t agree with people complaining about superhero fatigue. I love superhero movies. I love comicbooks and seeing them brought to life. But when I hear about movies like this one, I start to understand. I’m not sick of superheroes. But I am tired of studios making movies that fit the same mold again and again and never venturing into anything different. I’ve been torn about the X-Men movies for a long time, and as much as I don’t want it to be true, I think this one will be the one that pushes me over the edge into not enjoying them anymore.

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.