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

 

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The Fate Of Fox Marvel TV & Films

Buried in all the hoopla over Disney acquiring Fox and its properties is the question of Fox’s Marvel TV shows. On the other hand,  taking up a lot of attention is the fate of the two remaining Fox mutant films, Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants.

But first, let’s start with the TV shows. Legion and The Gifted came out fairly recently, which was something of a miracle because Disney owns the TV rights to the Marvel Comics mutants. Plus, a cold war existed earlier this decade between the two film studios since Fox owned the film rights to the X-Men. While it was a surprise that Disney allowed Fox to create and air the two mutant TV shows, it was a sign that the bitter rivalry was ending between the two studios and a portent to the merger that happened recently.

Both The Gifted and Legion are clearly not set in the film universes featured in the Fox X-Men films. So it’s easy to separate them from the film franchise. On paper, it is easy to just write these shows off and quickly cancel them, and that may be their fate later this year. But both are interesting and well made shows with Legion being a stand out with its bizarre imagery and twisted storylines. It would be a shame to just shuck them aside like yesterday’s trash. At the very least, they should be allowed to finish their storylines before Disney completely takes over the mutant properties. To date, no official word has come from Fox or Disney about the two shows, just that they have both been renewed for new seasons.

Marvel Studios has already announced plans to integrate the X-Men into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) at some point. Naturally, this means that the X-Men will be rebooted as what happened with Spider-Man when he joined the MCU. Keep in mind that Deadpool will have some kind of place in the Disney Marvel films, though we don’t know how watered down the character will be.

That may be all well and good, depending on who you ask, but what about the two unreleased Fox films Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants? Both films are largely finished, putting aside all the reshoots, so what will happen to them? Rumors are all over the place, ranging from the outrageous (that both films will be scrapped) to the plausible (buried film release schedules or dumped on a streaming service), and what did not help alleviate the rumblings is the fact that the release dates for the films have been changed (more than once in The New Mutants’ case). But officially both Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants will be released in February and August of next year, respectively.

Both films now seem like lost orphans. Dark Phoenix will be the final, proper Fox X-Men film and if the rumblings are true that it’s not very good then it’s a shame the Fox X-Men films will have a whimper of a closing chapter. It would have been for the best if last year’s Logan had been the actual, official finale of the films given its subject matter and story. But few knew about how things would turn out with the film properties. The New Mutants also has negative word of mouth with its failed ambitions of being a horror film and heavy reshoots. Given the release schedule, the film be the last Fox mutant film and as with Dark Phoenix, if it fails, then it’s a shame this will be the final word on the nearly two-decade-long Fox X-Men films. That is because the films were respectable superhero films (for the most part) that helped pave the way for the superhero film phenomenon today.

Marvel Studios Welcomes The X-Men And The Fantastic Four

This past Friday, shareholders from both 21st Century Fox and The Walt Disney Company officially approved Disney’s offer to buy a significant portion of 20th Century Fox. There are many reasons and benefits for Disney acquiring the rival entertainment company but one of them especially interests superhero fans. That is that now Disney and Marvel Studios can use the X-Men and Fantastic Four properties whose film rights were held by Fox. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the most formidable shared cinematic universe will now be a superpower and Marvel Studios will take full advantage of its acquisitions. So what lies ahead for Marvel Studios? Let’s explore.

Enter The Mutants

The X-Men are the biggest prize for Marvel Studios since they are very popular with fans and the mutants’ absence in the MCU has been glaring. That didn’t stop the film studio from producing quality films it is just that it annoyed many that the studio, which proved it cared about its characters, were unable to feature the mutants. Meanwhile, while Fox did put out some fine films like Logan and Deadpool, their films were hit or miss. At times it was obvious that Fox did not appreciate or understand the mutants and often the adaptations were not faithful, at best. Other times we were presented with dire schlock like X-Men Origins: Wolverine that did a textbook character assassination on Deadpool.

young x-men

Now that Disney and Marvel have the mutants under their fold, the question is what to do with them? The Disney heads made it clear the mutants would be folded into the MCU though there is a good argument for keeping the mutants in their own separate universe. That is because a core concept of the mutants in the Marvel Comics is that they have existed alongside humanity for a very long time. For obvious reasons there hasn’t been any evidence of mutants to date in the MCU with the closest analogy being the Inhumans as shown on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Inhumans. So how could it be that mutants have existed in the MCU all this time? Where were they during the events of Avengers: Infinity War? A separate argument can be made for the MIA characters from the TV side of the MCU like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but that is another story.

The way forward is to have mutants being a recent phenomena in the MCU that came about from the events of Thanos’ finger snap in Avengers: Infinity War. Another is to tie them with the Eternals, a property that the film studio is reportedly exploring. The Eternals storyline about alien Celestials experimenting on prehistoric humans and leaving them with a genetic time bomb that explodes into mutantkind during modern times is an avenue worth considering. Or have it that mutants have existed all along, but are very rare and stay hidden, which would go nicely with Logan/Wolverine and Professor X, and that for some reason more mutants have become more prevalent. This mystery could be explored over several films, perhaps as post-credit scenes. Being that it will take some time to properly redo the X-Men, mutants could be gradually introduced in other films and the fourth MCU phase could culminate in an Avengers vs. X-Men film. That could be a perfect way to launch a new series of X-films.

A casualty of the Disney acquisition are the upcoming Fox mutant films Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants. Both were supposed to come out this year, but have been delayed until next year. The latest rumors have it that both films are considered by insiders as bad as the infamous Fant4stic and that they may be scrapped altogether or be dumped on streaming services. It’s too early to say but the films now seem like unwanted children without any future. Dark Phoenix will be the swan song of the proper Fox X-Men films and it might not even feature the word “X-Men” in its final title to avoid associations with future MCU X-Men films. The New Mutants has gained the stink of being a troubled film laden with extensive reshoots and that doesn’t bode well. Its fate may depend on how Dark Phoenix fares. If Dark Phoenix fails, whether as a theatrical release or a streaming release, then expect The New Mutants to disappear like the infamous Roger Corman film version of the Fantastic Four.

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