Dark Phoenix was always going to be terrible. It struck too many of those signifiers that usually shape a box office disaster. Multiple release date changes, reshoots, confusion over the series’ continuation and finally a quick seasonal dump for a last shred of attention. But, it’s the X-Men. A mixed audience is always going to find something to love here.
But, what is love for commonly shared interests? Are you appreciating familiarity or the work at face value? Between the release of Godzilla last week and this week’s Dark Phoenix, fandom has to ask itself a question. What is everyone else not seeing in the thing I love?
It’s far too easy to be the grumpy cynic using an ever-shifting standard to apply whole sale value to anything that isn’t fitting normative value. In fact, it’s so easy that most elements of fandom automatically assume that any derision comes from this mindset.
When Dark Phoenix begins, the Singerverse Reloaded has us introduced to the X-Men as early 90s style heroes. In a Universe with no Avengers or heroic characters, a bunch of private school kids and their instructors are entrusted to save people in space.
Naturally, the President invites them to save NASA’s latest mission. Not that many people bat an eye when it gets a kid killed.
Why should they? This is less a narrative and more a string of events. But, let’s not act like the original Phoenix saga handled it much better. Sure, it was the late 1970s, but the original story made you believe that Jean survived re-entering Earth’s orbit and slamming a shuttle into Jamaica Bay.
Spare me the long list of retcons and attempts to keep Jean Grey in the comics, people. Let’s address both comics and the films on their direct audience level.
Both stories center around Jean Grey sacrificing herself and becoming something more. How does she first respond to these cosmic puberty changes? In the comics, she changes her clothes telekinetically while passed out.
In Dark Phoenix, she kills a mentor and begins sharing her daddy issues. From there, it’s Jean might be a problem. The comics had enough time to showcase how Phoenix grew into a person and her subsequent breakdown.
The film spurred the breakdown by having Phoenix being manipulated by ill-defined alien interlopers. While in the comics she was stalked, gaslighted and mentally attacked by a wealthy group of sexually charged costume fetish people. Hell, when they first make her evil, the comics had her induce a Pre Civil War era attack scene where they made sure to show Storm dressed up as a mammy style slave. Comics, people!
Jennifer Lawrence has my hometown wrapped around her finger, but she’s just awful as Mystique now. People will be quick to shoot holes through the chemistry between Turner and Sheridan, but they’re missing something painfully obvious. J-Law does not want to be involved in these films anymore.
Lucky for her, she got her wish. The films belong to Disney now and we’re going to get Wolverine dick jokes, carefully selected soundtracks and action-panel decisions that find a way to make everything youth-friendly. Don’t believe me?
Check back in 2-3 years when Storm is a Wakandan, Charles Xavier is a Young Urban Professional and Wolverine was fighting the real battles that Captain America couldn’t handle. I do future spoilers now, deal with it.
Back to the film, when examining popular cinema narratives…I’m becoming super aware how video game style storytelling is just messing up other storytelling platforms. It was bound to happen, as you can’t have one entertainment form dominate the populace for ages and then expect other outlets not to adapt.
Given that FOX was facing an uphill battle of a corporate takeover, fierce competition and a new to wrap up this iteration of the X-People…what were they supposed to do?
So, forgive them that everything feels like completing a game stage to meet the next threat. Magneto on the poorly defined Genosha? Check! Did they finally bring Selene into the movies? Check! Hell, Nightcrawler just teleport jacked a dude into a train! BAMF AF, my dude.
Now, I can’t totally crap on the film. The train sequence had a ton of amazing moments, Professor X being forced to walk again was cool and Nightcrawler got his moment. It’s just that three moments don’t make a movie.
While superhero movies coast on attitude and set pieces as much as their ability to tell a story, what happens when none of it works? Jessica Chastain and her alien homies were changed repeatedly due to outside forces.
Most of the cast and production let it leak that chunks of the finale were changed due to similarities to Captain Marvel. A film can’t succeed if it’s being retooled to stay ahead of the Joneses, while also trying to appeal to a fanbase. When you do that, you end up making something that no one really likes. It just exists.
The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of those Marvel storylines that has had smoke blown up its skirt for ages now. When I was a younger comic fan, its canon status as an all-time great couldn’t be challenged.
But, time has a way of changing perspectives. I have zero qualms with efforts being made to adapt or alter a source narrative. Especially if you can improve upon what came before.
Dark Phoenix (2019) improves upon nothing. What is a dated melodrama about a young woman merging with a cosmic entity has become a contemporary melodrama about a young woman merging with a cosmic entity. The Marvel Comics has about 3-4 years to flesh out the story, while the Disney bean-counters were tapping their watch as this film went through its second date change and subsequent edit.
No one can successfully create on an assembly line. Especially when your assembly line is being shut down and replaced with a Hot Topic. I don’t envy anyone involved in this production, as it sucks to know that time’s up and apathy is in the air. The Singerverse, Jean Grey and this young cast deserved better.
Now, stay tuned for your third X-origin in 20 years.