The Fox X-Men Film Series Burns Out With Dark Phoenix

dark phoenix poster

It’s been interesting to read and watch all the negativity and vitriol hurled against the final Fox X-Men film, Dark Phoenix. Yes, technically there is still the unreleased film The New Mutants, but from all accounts that upcoming film (if it is ever released) does not appear to be connected to the Fox X-Men films and it will be radically retooled. Who knows, now that Disney owns the film property, The New Mutants could be retconned to be part of its own Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), though that is a risk.

Getting back to Dark Phoenix, the reaction to the conclusion of the X-Men film saga has been harsh, perhaps a bit too harsh. It’s not that bad and has its moments, though it is flawed. It certainly isn’t a Logan or X-Men: Days of Future Past, just a missed opportunity, which is sad.

Dark Phoenix takes place in 1992 where the X-Men are revered celebrities with their heroics, thanks to the efforts of their leader Charles Xavier'(James McAvoy) to show the world that mutants shouldn’t be feared. By this time, he even has a direct phone line with the U.S. president. Xavier gets called for help with stranded astronauts onboard an orbiting space shuttle. The X-Men are dispatched to go rescue them with the team consisting of field leader Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Nightcrawler (Kodie Smit-McPhee). They are able to save the astronauts from a coming solar flare, but Jean Grey is blasted by the flare which turns out to be the elemental Phoenix Force. This transforms her, increasing her telepathic and telekinetic powers beyond measure and leaves her struggling to control them and her fragile emotions. Her plight draws conflict not just from outside forces wishing to either kill her or control her but by the X-Men themselves, who are divided on how to deal with Jean Grey.

The film is very loosely based on the monumental “Dark Phoenix Saga” from the Marvel Comics X-Men books, which is widely considered to be one of the greatest comic book stories of all time. The previous attempt to bring this story to film, X-Men: The Last Stand, was a poor one and the latest attempt is only marginally better. Unlike Last Stand, Dark Phoenix is solely centered on the Jean Grey’s story, but the execution feels pedestrian many times. By itself, Dark Phoenix is competent but lacks the true epic scale of the comic book story and needed a better visual and filmmaking punch from a more competent and experienced director.

magneto and dark phoenix

For some bizarre reason 20th Century Fox deemed it OK to give this film about the beloved story to a first-time director (Simon Kinberg) who just lacks the skill to give us the epic story this X-Men film saga deserves. By the time the film series was nearing its conclusion, the upper management of Fox must have known they were to be sold off to Disney, so if they wanted to conclude their successful film series why hand this finale off to Kinberg? Yes, he wrote and produced the previous films and has clout, but allowing someone who never directed anything at all to handle Dark Phoenix was a risky move that blew up in their faces. The direction is very workman-like and too safe. Many pivotal and emotional scenes lack the flair shown in other X-Men films and shockingly the film is shot like a low-budget or TV film. To be fair, the third act of Dark Phoenix was re-shot because it was too similar to another recent film (probably Captain Marvel) and its done quite well, but it will disappoint comic book fans looking for the original story’s spectacular space showdown. Still, the confrontation between the X-Men, Jean Grey and other forces was exciting and probably the best part of the film.

There are many good elements in the film, aside from the final act. Chief among them is the acting by Sophie Turner in the pivotal role of Jean Grey. Her character is the core of the film and it was vital that we be invested in her struggle and we are. In spite of some actions that she carries out in the film, it is hard to see Grey as evil and she comes off as sympathetic. Most of the other actors bring their A-game to the role including McAvoy, whose Xavier must come to grips of mistakes he’s made with his disciple Grey when she was younger and how he let fame get to him. Other standouts are Hoult as Beast, who takes a less understanding view with Grey, Michael Fassbender who is always great as the conflicted Magneto, and Smit-McPhee, who while not getting much screen time manages to make his Nightcrawler a standout, sympathetic superhero with awesome teleporting powers.

mystique and jean grey

Other actors don’t fare as well. The worst of which is Lawrence, who is so checked out with playing the shapeshifting Mystique that you could tell she was counting down how much longer she had to play the role. Another one is Jessica Chastain, who portrays Vuk, a mysterious alien that is invested in the Dark Phoenix. Unfortunately the subplot involving Vuk and the aliens she leads is very uninspired and dull. Chastain basically sleepwalks through her lines and has zero charisma. While Magneto is one of the best supervillains on film, Vuk is clearly one of the worst. The problem here is that the alien angle is a major story point and a detriment to the film.

 

To be clear, Dark Phoenix is not the disaster that some hyperbolic and offended critics are claiming it to be. Seriously, this is not the worse Fox X-Men film. That dishonor still belongs to X-Men Origins: Wolverine. However, the Dark Phoenix story needs to be properly told or not at all. Kinberg probably should have chosen a more low-scale story to tell which would have been suited to his limited skill set. It is easy to tell that Fox and many of those involved were burned out of the X-Men and ready to hand the film rights to Disney. It’s a shame really, the X-Men films had a suitable conclusion with Logan and the Fox X-Men film series deserved a better send off than Dark Phoenix. But the film is OK to watch if you keep in mind the film won’t properly re-tell the classic comic book story. But at least we get to see some terrific actors play their iconic roles one last time and see the film series come to a conclusion.

José Soto

 

Daredevil Cancelled

Daredevil, the crown jewel in the Marvel Netflix Universe, has been cancelled by the same streaming service. Many saw this coming in light of recent developments, nevertheless, the news still hit us fans pretty hard. After all, it is the best of the Marvel Netflix shows and we’re still celebrating its triumphant third season, which was released just weeks ago. Now many are asking what’s next for Daredevil? Will Disney pick up a fourth season to stream on its upcoming streaming service, Disney+, or promote the character into the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)?

Here is what is known. After Daredevil was canceled by Netflix on Thursday, November 29, Marvel quickly released this statement on the same day:

“We are tremendously proud of the show’s last and final season and although it’s painful for the fans, we feel it best to close this chapter on a high note. We’re thankful to our partners at Marvel, showrunner Erik Oleson, the show’s writers, stellar crew and incredible cast including Charlie Cox as Daredevil himself, and we’re grateful to the fans who have supported the show over the years. While the series on Netflix has ended, the three existing seasons will remain on the service for years to come, while the Daredevil character will live on in future projects for Marvel.”

On another statement released on Friday, November 30, Marvel added, “Marvel is extremely grateful to the huge audience that loved Marvel’s Daredevil. From the moment of young Matt’s first act of heroism to the birth of Page, Murdock and Nelson, it has been an unbelievable journey. We are incredibly proud of the amazing showrunners and writers starting with [exec producers] Drew Goddard and Steven DeKnight, Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie and Erik Oleson, [stars] Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Vincent D’Onofrio and our casts who brought our characters to life with such excellence, and every one of the fantastic crews in NYC. We look forward to more adventures with the Man without Fear in the future,”

Looking Ahead

So what does this mean? Is there hope we haven’t seen the last of Daredevil and the other heroes of the Marvel Netflix Universe? Sure, Jessica Jones and The Punisher have new seasons coming up, but with Daredevil’s cancellation, the writing is on the wall for those shows and the Marvel Netflix Universe. Well, trying to read between the spin, the real message is mixed…and most of us won’t be happy.

Marvel (and Disney) owns Daredevil, the character. They have the right and the power to bring him back immediately in any form, whether as an animated film, a live-action movie, appearances in MCU films, etc. But it seems that Netflix owns the rights to the current incarnation, that is the one starring Charlie Cox, who made the character his own. Think of it this way, if Disney got back the rights to the X-Men, but didn’t have the right to use Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or showing the mutants in those black, leather outfits. They could do that now since they own 20th Century Fox, but just imagine this situation as to what might occur with Daredevil.

From the statements, Daredevil will return, but most likely as a reboot. The same way Marvel Studios recast and rebooted Spider-Man, and from all indications it appears that Marvel Studios will do this with the future X-Men films. In Spider-Man’s case, the rebooting was welcome since Sony Pictures’ latest films had fallen short. As for the X-Men, their films have been a mixed bag and lauded stars like Jackman and Patrick Stewart were done with their characters. This situation with Daredevil is especially stinging because the show is so damn good and the third season is arguably its best and lived up to the full potential of the character. The casting was perfect, starting with Cox as the down-to-earth and conflicted superhero and D’Onofrio’s Kinpin just crushes it.

So what is next? Marvel Studios may use the character but not for a while. There is recasting and such to deal with. Disney+ won’t pick up the show for new seasons because Daredevil is more adult-oriented, meaning violent. It would not gel with the family-friendly image of Disney. Perhaps Hulu, which is co-owned by Disney, could pick it up. We would all like that, but it’s not likely. Ditto with the character appearing in the MCU in the short term. No, it most likely means that Cox and the others are out, we won’t see the Man Without Fear for some time and this confirms that the Marvel Netflix shows were never really part of the MCU anyway.

Why Cancel It?

How can Marvel let this go? There were reports that a fourth season of Daredevil was being prepared before the cancellation. The correct question is why did Netflix do this and effectively kill the Marvel Netflix Universe?

Doomed Defenders

There isn’t an official reason for the cancellation. Some theorize that viewership was down, even though the third season received rave reviews and buzz, but Netflix won’t release its numbers. The writing has been on the wall with the Marvel Netflix shows ever since the announcement of Disney+. Tensions between Disney and Netflix came to a boil with the announcement because Netflix will lose many of the Disney films and shows currently airing on the streaming service.

By creating and promoting new episodes of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Netflix is promoting one of the brand IPs of their new competitor. Why would anyone do that? Plus, Netflix reached a deal with Mark Millar to create new non-Marvel superhero shows so why spend resources for their competition? Given how successful Netflix is, the service didn’t need the Marvel brand to pull in subscribers as in the past. It’s hard to fault Netflix though we don’t like the decision.

This development is just terrible, but at least we have the three seasons (and his appearance in The Defenders) to rewatch and enjoy over and over again. Unlike other superhero adaptations, Daredevil hit it out of the park from the very start and we have to thank Netlix and Marvel for finally bringing us a version of the Man Without Fear that lived up to its potential and surpassed it.

Lewis T. Grove

 

Personal Reflections About Stan Lee

Heroes aren’t born they’re developed, and Stan Lee created a universe full of Superheroes. It’s sad we have lost the greatest mind in the history of comics.

When I was young, I wrote to Mr. Lee with a storyline and an idea for a comic. Basically, it was about a cabbie who picks up Spider-Man characters like J. Jonah Jameson and Robbie Robertson and gets different viewpoints of Spidey. I also gave him an idea about doing a comic on how to create your own versions of Marvel costumes. I was surprised that Stan personally wrote back to me and actually liked my ideas. He gave me the names of the people I should contact at Marvel Comics. It was too bad that nothing came of it but I was grateful for Stan’s input and advice.

Years later, I actually got the meet Stan the Man at Shea Stadium, the former home of the New York Mets. Spider-man was getting married to Mary Jane Watson in the Marvel comic books and in the newspaper comic strips that Lee was writing at the time. He decided to have a wedding ceremony for the super couple the same week the wedding happened in the print versions. Back then I worked at Starlog magazine and we ran stories covering Spider-man’s wedding in Starlog and Comics Scene magazines.

I spoke to Lee after a photo shoot inside the stadium. I told him I had written to him and that he personally replied. He shocked me by saying he remembered the letter.

Stan wrote to us and said he enjoyed the stories and really loved the photos especially the one of him on the shoulders of his superheroes. He asked if we could send him a print copy, and we sent him a few 8x10s of the photos he requested. We were more than happy to do so, and it turned out to be a blessing. From that moment on, Marvel Comics always sent us press materials at a faster rate than before.

I later gave him copies of the other pictures when I saw him years at a NY Comic Con. I was thrilled that he loved them all.

Below is the story with some photos of our coverage of Spider-man’s wedding that appeared in the September 1987 issue of Starlog:

“Webbing Bells, It’s a Marvelous Life

He has escaped the villainous clutches of Dr. Octopus, the Kingpin, the Hobgoblin, the Green Goblin and even Kraven the Hunter, but the friendly neighborhood Spider-man was finally snared on June 5, 1987 before a sellout crowd of 51,402 at New York’s Shea Stadium.

The superhero’s co-creator Stan Lee was there to join the web-slinger to his longtime love, model/actress Mary Jane Watson in weblock. The wedding party included Spidey super friends Firestar, Iceman, the Hulk and Captain America. The Green Goblin made a rare return-from-the-dead appearance. The bride and groom entered through centerfield in separate limousines, making their way to the white heart-shaped altar from which Stan the Man presided over the ceremony.

“Now, in the sight and presence of a coterie of our other costumed crusaders, please prepare to recite your vows,” announced Lee. “Do you, Spider-man, being of sound mind and super body, take Mary Jane to be your lawfully wedded bride, forsaking all other superheroines? Do you promise to never leave footprints on the ceiling, or cobwebs in the corners? And do you agree to pinch-hit for the Mets if they ask you?” Spider-sense tingling, the groom replied, “I do.”

“Mary Jane, do you, being of sound mind and spectacular body, agree to forsake other masked Marvelites,” Lee continued, “to never, ever swat a spider, and to hug, comfort and kiss away any bruises incurred after a long day of bashing bad guys—and stay out of the Mets’ locker room?”

After a moment’s thought, Mary Jane echoed, “I do.”

“The rings please,” said Lee, “Repeat after me—With this ring I thee web,” and both participants did so.

“By the power vested in me by Marvel Comics,” said Lee, “I now pronounce you Spider-man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”

With this, Spidey carried the new Mrs. Peter Parker off to their limo and they drove off to tumultuous applause. The remaining superheroes and villain hoisted Stan Lee on their shoulders and carried him off the field.

Jim McLernon”

I’ve always treasured those memories of meeting Stan and am touched that he loved those photos. It was a small way of giving thanks to him in person for all that he has done for us and the Marvel Universe.

Thank you, Stan for creating a whole universe.

Jim McLernon

 

More Reflections on a Comic Book Legend

Stan Lee was the greatest superhero pop culture celebrity and the last of the great original co-founders of Marvel Comics.

He gave us characters and stories that strongly resonate with us even to this day. He was a powerful storyteller whose literary ideas and words would pair up with talented visual artists. Together, they would come up with colorful heroes and wild adventures that are recognized all over the world.

On a personal note, I met him a couple of times in the comic book conventions.  On both occasions he was as we always saw him to be—energetic, and quite inspirational.

I first met him at a NYC convention in the mid 80s. There was a huge line to meet Stan even back in those days, but I didn’t wait for long. When I finally had the moment to say hi and take a picture with him, he also gave me some great advice about improving my little art sketches and doodles.

For someone who changed the course of pop culture, Stan enjoyed being playful about his celeb status. He really was both insightful and self-deprecating, and sincerely enjoyed being with the fans.

Thank you, Stan for providing more than seventy years of heroes winning the day.

Rest In Peace.

‘Nuff said.

GEO

Stan Lee—The Man, The Legend

We’ve been expecting this for some time now given his frail age, but today’s sad news that Stan Lee passed away still hurts. Why? Because Stan the Man is a comic book legend and his influence not just in comic books, but in our culture resonates so powerfully. That may be a bit hyperbolic, but appropriate given Lee’s penchant for promoting the Marvel Comics superheroes he co-created.

Most of us know his biography better than our own. Born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922, Stan Lee was introduced to the world of comic books when he began working for Timely Comics in 1939 and soon started writing for the company. Before long, he became an editor and worked on numerous titles and was quite prolific. During his tenure he came up with the pseudonym “Stan Lee” (a playful jib of his first name) because he wanted to use his real name when he got around to writing his Great American Novel. Although that never happened, what he created would have more of an impact in American pop culture than any old Great American Novel.

Eventually, Timely Comics morphed into Marvel Comics and in the early 1960s, Lee wanted to help boost sales for his company’s books. Seeing that the best-selling title in rival DC Comics was the superhero team book Justice League of America, he decided to create Marvel’s own superhero team. He teamed with his longtime collaborator, artist Jack Kirby, to create the Fantastic Four, thus the Marvel Age of Comics was born.

Comes the Marvel Age

From there, Lee and Kirby quickly grew the Marvel Universe and introduced such iconic characters and teams like the Hulk, the Avengers, Black Panther, Thor, Silver Surfer, Iron Man and the X-Men. Lee also worked with other artists, which resulted in his greatest creation and contribution to pop culture. That being Spider-Man, who he co-created with Steve Ditko.

What set his creations apart from traditional, square-jawed superheroes was that the Marvel heroes were flawed and relatable. This was best seen with Spider-Man, who broke the mold of a superhero, and was Lee’s favorite character. His alter ego, Peter Parker, was an insecure everyman type who like us had to grapple with real-life, ordinary problems like paying the rent or trying to get a date. It seemed like the more Spider-Man won a battle, the more Peter would lose a war in his personal life. Other superheroes and even the supervillains were just as conflicted and dimensional.

Lee’s books introduced novel concepts and explored themes of bigotry and social strife and issues as seen with The X-Men and The Amazing Spider-Man. His works also ushered in more diverse characters such as Black Panther, the first black superhero, and Daredevil, a disabled superhero. Readers reacted positively to these innovative comic books and the result was that Marvel Comics exploded into the pop scene.

Lee’s bombastic personality and prolific writing helped promote the books. During his time as editor and editor-in-chief, Lee helped create the “Marvel Method” of creating comics that would become controversial when it came to designate whom was actually responsible for Marvel’s success. Being that he was writing so many titles and pressed for time, Lee would come up with a basic plot and pass it on to the artists. They in turn would flesh out the stories and when they were done, Lee would add the snazzy dialogue.

Over time, many artists were irked over the growing perception from the outside world that Lee was solely responsible for Marvel’s success. This would eventually cause Kirby and Ditko to leave Marvel. They went on to work on their own creations but looking at their post-Lee work it is easy to see how much of an impact Lee had in the Marvel works since the artists’ solo efforts lacked the pizzazz and sharpness that Lee’s dialogue added.

As the so-called Marvel Age of Comics began, the superheroes became a large part of popular culture when the heroes appeared in cartoons and were featured in merchandising. As this went on, Marvel’s biggest spokesperson and cheerleader continued to be Stan Lee himself. He always came off as energetic and jovial in interviews, appearances, and his column, which appeared in Marvel Comics. Often his posts were lettered with his memorable one-liners like “Face front, true believers!” “’Nuff said!”, and “Excelsior!”.

Marvel Mascot

Eventually, Lee stepped down from his day-to-day writing and editing duties at Marvel and took on the ambassadorial role for Marvel full time. During this period, the 1970s and 1980s, Lee worked to bring the Marvel heroes to live-action medium. The results were not great with many movie projects stalling out and TV efforts being sub-par, although The Incredible Hulk was well received. Regardless, his efforts paved the way for the later success of Marvel films years later.

Still, Lee would continue to write when time permitted and penned several comics for Marvel and even did a notable stint for DC Comics where he re-imagined heroes like Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman.

In recent years, Lee’s status and standing with fans grew and grew as he embraced his role as a mascot for all things Marvel. These were best seen with his numerous cameos in Marvel films like Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, the Spider-Man films, and the Captain America films. Many of these appearances were crowd-pleasing scene stealers.

By this time, Marvel and comic books grew out of their niche and became a prominent part of our culture. The phenomenal success of superhero films and the cultural presence of superheroes can be attributed to Lee’s efforts.

As we look back fondly on Stan Lee, it is best to keep in mind that while we mourn him, it’s best that we continue to celebrate what he has created. For truly his works will endure for generations to come.

Thanks, Stan. Rest easy now.

Excelsior!

José Soto

Daredevil Season Three Is A Triumph!

Daredevil S3 poster

When Netflix dropped the third season of Daredevil a few weeks ago, viewers witnessed why Daredevil is the best of the Marvel Netflix shows. As the first of these streaming shows, Daredevil was an immediate hit with critics and fans, although it faltered in its second season. Then following the missteps of other Marvel Netflix shows, many doubted the quality of them, including Daredevil. Fortunately, the third season of the Marvel superhero show re-affirmed our faith with a triumphant season.

The third season takes place after the events of The Defenders where Daredevil/Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), the blind superhero with enhanced senses, was presumed dead. He barely survived and is in the care of Sister Maggie Grace (Joanne Whalley) in the church where he grew up. As he recovers, the notorious crime boss, Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio), is in prison thanks to Daredevil and carries out a complex scheme to get out of prison and manipulating members of the FBI to serve him as he re-enters public life. Part of the scheme includes destroying Daredevil’s reputation by having an impersonator murder people in cold blood. While this goes on, Matt goes through a crisis of self and faith as he struggles with his ideals when dealing with Fisk and his lackeys. One of them happens to be FBI Agent Ben Poindexter (Wilson Bethel), a deeply disturbed man with a supernaturally deadly aim. Fans know that this is the villain Bullseye and he is more than a match for Daredevil. He is so deadly with his skills that he defeats our hero on more than one occasion, and these fight scenes were actually terrifying to watch with their brutality.

daredevil vs bullseye

Speaking of fight scenes, the third season of Daredevil continues the tradition of presenting “one-take” fight scenes that are so memorable and the one shown in the fourth episode (“Blindsided”) does not disappoint fight fans. In fact, the fight scene, which takes place in a prison, probably tops these scenes with its elaborate and long nature. It features savage fisticuffs, lines of dialogue and a well-choreographed riot scene that all lasts over ten minutes! One has to wonder with the intensity of these fight scenes why it is so difficult for the other Marvel Netflix shows to match the ones featured in Daredevil.

On the other hand, other episodes pack emotional punches and are haunting character studies. One of them, “Karen” explores the back story of Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and it features some powerful acting by Woll as we learn she is not the innocent person Matt and his buddy Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) believe her to be. There are several surprising twists and revelations. Some are inspired by the comic books while others keep us guessing. We’re never sure who will live or die and its often unexpected and tragic.

What makes Daredevil such a triumph is that it focuses on characters, which are perfectly played by topnotch talent. Cox, D’Onofrio and Bethel are the standouts in the stellar cast as they exude raging demons within them and we see how each of the three grapple with their inner turmoil. Charlie Cox continues to sell his Matt Murdock as a decent, tortured man who is pushed to the edge and has to find a way to center himself. Meanwhile, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin (called by that name for the first time in this Marvel Netflix show) is a terrifying monster who is barely able to control his inner fury. There are some wincing moments when he lets his volcanic temper explode which you can’t help but watch. Bethel’s Poindexter is a true psychotic but great pains are taken to show what led this FBI agent to fall from grace. There is a new character who has an impressive arc. That being FBI Agent Ray Nadeem (Jay Ali), an honorable man who is tragically ensnared in Wilson Fisk’s complex web.

The season may come off a bit slow in the first couple of episodes but after having seen the entirety of Daredevil season three it is clear that the quieter pace of the early episodes were needed to set up the characters and situations. The payoff starts fairly soon and it is worth the wait.

Daredevil season three proves that not only is it the best of the Marvel Netflix shows but the best superhero TV show out right now. It would be a shame if Netflix were to cancel it given the recent uncertainty of the Marvel Netflix shows. The showrunners were hoping to have the show run five seasons and there is plenty of story left to tell with the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Besides without not given too much away, it would be nice to see Matt don the red suit again.

Lewis T. Grove