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Non-Review Review: X-Men – Dark Phoenix

It reflects the strange state of the modern multimedia landscape that X-Men: Dark Phoenix feels almost like a plucky underdog.

This is a major studio summer blockbuster with a budget of well over one hundred million dollars. More than that, it is the twelfth film in a series that has historically been both critically and commercially successful; the films have earned over $5.7bn dollars worldwide, eight of the twelve films have positive scores on Rotten Tomatoes, seven of those twelve have been popular enough to end on the Internet Movie Database‘s top 250 films of all-time. The current franchise stars a two-time Oscar winner. The last film in the series earned an Oscar nomination for its screenplay.

A hot property.

Dark Phoenix should be an event. Instead, it arrives with a relative whimper. The release date was pushed back repeatedly, first from November 2018 to February 2019, and then to June 2019. It has been hounded by largely unfounded industry gossip about terrible test screenings. It is tracking for the lowest opening weekend in the franchise. In the time between the film entering production and its eventual release, it has been somewhat overshadowed by news that Disney are to buy 20th Century Fox, and that this franchise will be rebooted.

“I am inevitable,” Thanos famously boasted in Avengers: Endgame, the literal manifestation of death and time who existed to be vanquished by the assembled heroes. He might have been speaking of the influence of Disney. Dark Phoenix crashes against that inevitability, shattering and snapping against those immovable objects. Dark Phoenix is a mess, a disorganised husk of a movie carved out in an editing booth and built from last-minute reshoots. However, it is not quite the disaster that it should be. Instead, it seems almost endearingly defiant, a blockbuster flavoured with passive aggression.

Raining on their parade.

To avoid any ambiguity, Dark Phoenix is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. If it avoids the absolute nadir of the franchise – the unholy triptych of X-Men III, X-Men: Origins – Wolverine or X-Men: Apocalypse – that is mostly down a combination of good fortune and the fact that the butcher’s knife taken to the film has been particularly thorough. There is relatively little room for embarrassment in Dark Phoenix. In fact, there’s little room for anything at all.

Dark Phoenix neatly clocks in at under two hours, which is a welcome respite in the era of bloated blockbuster runtimes. Indeed, part of what made Apocalypse such an exhausting and frustrating experience was a two-and-a-half hour runtime populated with strange diversions and narrative dead-ends, including a frankly inexcusable extended trip to “Weapon X” in service of a gratuitous cameo from Hugh Jackman. There is very little fat on Dark Phoenix, a film which moves from plot point to plot point with the single-mindedness of an editor aiming to hit a predetermined run-time.

The Mystique has been lost.

There are points at which Dark Phoenix doesn’t feel like a movie at all. Instead, it plays a collection of plot points compressed to form a something resembling narrative, often leaning on audience associations that simply don’t exist. Within Dark Phoenix, character motivation is lucky to last a single scene or two; the characters frequently change allegiances with little warning or justification. In fact, members of the cast often arrive in scenes to offer philosophical and moral positions that exist only in service of the large plot dynamics.

At one point in the film, Storm visits a confused and angry Scott in the room that he once shared with Jean. Jean has been overtaken by a cosmic power, and has caused no shortage of harm or disruption. Storm explains to Scott that they may need to kill Jean, for the greater good. This is a point that somebody has to make at some point in the story in order to communicate it to the audience, but Dark Phoenix never bothers to explain why it should be Storm who advances the argument, beyond the fact that the character has been idle for a lot of the narrative to that point.

Perfectly adequate Scott!

Storm has had no meaningful interaction with Scott or Jean; their longest social interaction to that point was at a party in the woods in which Storm used her powers to make ice cubes. So there’s no explanation of what Storm’s attachment to this dynamic actually is. More than that, there’s no sense of where Storm’s moral authority comes from. Storm was one of the horsemen at the climax of Apocalypse, and so complicit in urban devastation in Cairo that dwarfs anything that Jean has done to that point in Dark Phoenix.

To be fair, under-developed primary characters are nothing new in superhero films; even dating back to the original X-Men, characters like Toad and Sabertooth existed largely as fodder for action scenes. The problem with Dark Phoenix is the emotional weight that it puts on these under-developed characters. When Charles and Scott decide to confront Jean, they inform Storm and Nightcrawler to stay behind. Storm and Nightcrawler refuse, insisting that they are part of a team. It is a sweet moment, in theory. In practice, it does not feel in any way earned.

Everybody needs their space.

To pick another very obvious example, the film is obligated to provide a big action set piece for Nightcrawler at the climax. However, the film has done very little with Nightcrawler to that point, so there is no leverage to get that character into the action sequence. So Dark Phoenix provokes Nightcrawler to action using a nameless character who was only introduced a few moments earlier and who only addresses a single line to him. This character seems to exist solely to give Nightcrawler a “moment” and wallow in how badass this child soldier can be.

To be fair to Dark Phoenix, at least some of these problems seem to be down to an over-eager editing scissors. Following the release of Apocalypse, writer Simon Kinberg had promised that the sequel would continue to develop the characters reintroduced, like Storm and Nightcrawler. However, as outside factors cast a shadow over Dark Phoenix, Kinberg’s rhetoric has taken on a more funereal tone, positioning Dark Phoenix as more of an ending than a new beginning. Notably, the characters in Dark Phoenix describe themselves as “the last of the First Class.”

A magnetic personality.

As a result, the shift in Dark Phoenix away from the younger performers like Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi-Smit-McPhee and Evan Peters towards the four characters introduced in the soft franchise reboot X-Men: First Class: James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult. The edit very strongly favours the older characters, which is a major problem when the film leans so heavily on the motivations and emotions of the younger generations.

Of course, it is important not to be too forgiving. It is entirely possible that Kinberg originally envisaged Dark Phoenix as a more bloated and overcrowded blockbuster like Apocalypse, splitting its attention between old and young equally, resulting in momentum-sapping switches between two divergent story threads. Indeed, there is some small sense in which the decision to favour the older actors might be a blessing; none of the young performers excelled in Apocalypse, whereas the older cast members are at least reliable.

This is about as much Quicksilver as exists in the final cut of the film.

Dark Phoenix also suffers somewhat from the demands of being a stock franchise blockbuster. Kinberg has wisely and shrewdly scaled down the action from Apocalypse. In fact, the action is much lower key than that in even the climax of X-Men: Days of the Future Past, the point in the series at which blockbuster bloat truly set in for the series. (Days of Future Past notably featured a climax in which Magneto dropped a baseball stadium on the White House, despite the fact that he felt largely inessential to the climax except to offer a sense of scale.)

The action in Dark Phoenix is largely intimate, unfolding in relatively confined spaces. The biggest action set piece in the film occurs in the introductory sequence, in which the team stages a daring rescue of an imperiled space shuttle. The third act of the film unfolds, as it evolves, on a single crowded street, inside an old townhouse and on a train car. As far as superhero blockbusters go, there is something very refreshing in that. (Of course, it is hard to tell how much of that to credit to Kinberg’s intent, and how much of that is down to the practical constraints of the third-act reshoots.)

What the Vuk is going on?

At the same time, a lot of the action feels forced. In particular, there is a very cynical death of a major character that occurs about forty minutes into the film, primarily to serve as justification for the obligatory mutant-on-mutant fight sequences that are a staple of the franchise. (Days of Future Past is the only film in the primary franchise to really avoid this trap, primarily by focusing on mutants-versus-robots while depriving Magneto of henchmen and soldiers.) However, the plotting of Dark Phoenix to set these characters against one another feels especially cynical.

To a certain extent, it feels like Dark Phoenix is consciously riffing on Captain America: Civil War. Notable, the plot manoeuvres itself in such a way as to turn a major character against their form allies. There is a very strong sense in which this feels largely redundant. The basic plot of Dark Phoenix involves a member of the team going rogue, so having another major character make such a major heel turn feels largely unearned. Similarly, the climax reverses that heel turn with all the grace with which the Marvel Cinematic Universe handled the fallout from Civil War. (Very little.)

All fired up.

Nevertheless, Dark Phoenix is also a deeply fascinating film. The most impressive thing about the movie is how stunningly passive-aggressive it seems. The only way in which Dark Phoenix makes any coherent sense is as a piece of meta-commentary on the larger state of the X-Men franchise, and in light of the pending merger between Fox and Disney that rendered the blockbuster dead on arrival. The subtext is hardly subtle, often blared with a bullhorn.

Of course, Dark Phoenix was written and produced before the merger was announced to public. The film had wrapped its original shoot before news of the deal was even whispered in the open. Watching Dark Phoenix, there are faint traces of what the story is supposed to be about. As with his work on X-Men III, Kinberg strips out a lot of the explicit gender commentary from the source material in favour of a very broad and very general metaphor about power. “How you use it is up to you,” Xavier helpfully explains to a young Jean Grey, setting up the next two hours.

Professing his uncertainties.

To be fair, adapting The Dark Phoenix Saga for screen seems a fool’s errand. Originally published in the late seventies and into the eighties, The Dark Phoenix Saga was a groundbreaking piece of work from writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne. It was also somewhat progressive by the standards of the time, the tale of a woman who cast off the expectations that men impose upon her; the wholesome house wife that Charles Xavier trained her to be, and the sexy vixen that Jason Wyngarde wanted her to become.

The politics of The Dark Phoenix Saga can easily be reduced to the tale of a woman who gains too much power and must be destroyed for the greater good, which is a deeply unfortunate subtext. In fact, that subtext was enforced by Marvel editor Jim Shooter, who decided that Jean must die to atone for her actions during the comic book. There is something very meta-fictional in that. Jean grey so powerful that even the male editor of the publisher printing her comics had to intervene to punish her. (And even he failed; Jean would eventually come back.)

Rain of terror.

Again, this was relatively progressive by the standards of seventies Marvel; a female character throwing off the labels of Madonna or Whore and asserting her own anger and power in response to patriarchal society. Of course, relatively is an important modifier there. Among Chris Claremont’s work at the publisher around the same time was a salvage job on a plot that say the Avengers abandoning Carol Danvers to her mind-controlling son/lover in a pocket dimension. Although this is no excuse, the seventies were a different time.

Trying to adapt that story into film is too much for a modern mainstream blockbuster. What echoes of it remain in Dark Phoenix feel distinctly uncomfortable, with the sinister Vuk trying to coax Jean to use her powers and reject the expectations imposed on her by “men with little minds”, running the risk of casting Jean and Vuk as grotesque parodies of feminist outrage. More positively, and more generically, Jean’s closing monologue in Dark Phoenix meditates on her own right to autonomy and self-determination, free from the influences of other actors upon her.

A Storm is coming.

As a result, the shift away from the thematic elements of The Dark Phoenix Saga is almost welcome, given how spectacularly wrong it could go. Otherwise, the script to Dark Phoenix is populated with lots of little continuity nods to the comics. The shuttle mission in which Jean encounters the cosmic force is lifted director from the source material. Dark Phoenix repeatedly suggests (through visual storytelling rather than dialogue) that Scott Summers shares his comic counterpart’s understanding of angles and ricochets.

An underdeveloped subplot involves Magneto founding Genosha, although the mutant nation is never mentioned by name. Magneto is as superfluous to Dark Phoenix as he was to Apocalypse, but there is something appropriate about his characterisation. By the time he shows up, Magneto appears exhausted and defeated. He has accepted that he cannot change the world, and has settled for carving out a small part of it to live in peace. “This land was given to us by the United States government,” he explains. Naturally, the plot of Dark Phoenix awkwardly and cynically contorts to bring back Erik’s murderous instincts.

Poles apart.

Indeed, there is a general sense of tiredness coursing through Dark Phoenix. Towards the climax of the film, Charles Xavier and Erik Lensharr are thrown into conflict with one another yet again. Magneto just seems tired of it all. “There’s always a speech,” Magneto warns his old friend. “And you’re always sorry.” He pauses, before delivering the zinger. “Nobody cares.” It is a moment that seems almost self-aware, acknowledging how empty and futile all of this is, these characters stuck dancing in circles around one another.

However, the manner in which Dark Phoenix avoids the actual substance of its source material creates a vacuum at the heart of the story. That vacuum is filled with interesting concepts and ideas. There is a strong recurring sense that Dark Phoenix exists in the form that it does in part to deny Marvel Studios control of The Dark Phoenix Saga. There are moments at which the truncated, hollowed out and compressed adaptation seems to exist purely to scorch the earth, to ensure Disney can’t attempt another adaptation of the classic comic book story for the foreseeable future.

Unleash the Beast.

Of course, this can’t be entirely correct. Dark Phoenix is not purely a spite blockbuster. The film was written long before the production team knew that they would be rendered redundant. Most of the shooting was conducted before talk of the acquisition entered the mainstream. It is absolutely impossible that Dark Phoenix as a whole exists purely as a spiteful gesture to the newest owner of the intellectual property. At the same time, there are aspects of the film that make it hard to avoid such a reading.

After all, The Dark Phoenix Saga is probably the only Marvel Comics story that exists in conversation with genre classics like The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen. Even people who have never picked up a comic book know the name, and maybe even the broad strokes. This is a big deal for Marvel Comics, where only Born Again comes close, and that could never be adapted to a billion-dollar blockbuster. To illustrate this point, even Avengers: Infinity War didn’t take the name of the event to which it owes most of its story.

Burn it all.

From the perspective of Marvel Studios, a large part of the appeal of consolidating the X-Men franchise into the Disney family would be getting ahold of this one particular story. After all, Marvel Studios is a company that prides itself on its veneration and respect for its source material. The entire reason that the character of Skurge exists in Thor: Ragnarok is so as to provide an homage to an iconic splash page from Walt Simonson. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 recruits Sylvester Stallone, Michelle Yeoh and Ving Rhames to make an obscure nod to the source material.

There are hints of this early on in the film. Charles Xavier has been busy working on the X-Men brand. Dark Phoenix makes a point to stress the team is a public relations exercise. Charles in not selling the team to the public as mutants, noting that the phrase “superhero” has been used to describe their work. “I don’t know what that word means,” Charles concedes at a ceremony receiving an award from the President of the United States. “But I do know it’s a damn sight better than some of the other names you’ve called us.”

Charles is not in charge.

As ever, there are interesting ideas simmering away in the background of Dark Phoenix, unarticulated and unexpressed. The film’s 1992 setting is vaguely interesting, notably for how little attention that Dark Phoenix pays to the year in question. Unlike the sixties setting of First Class and the seventies setting of Days of Future Past, it feels like the movie has very little explicit to say about the time period in question. Notably, while Days of Future Past featured Richard Nixon as a character, the anonymous President of the United States featured in First Class does not appear to be George Bush.

Even the era-specific markers from the comic book series are largely ignored. Dark Phoenix features a small cameo from the mutant Alison Blaire, a cult favourite character from the early eighties. The team are wearing costumes from Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run in the early years of the new millennium, largely informed by the costumes from the first X-Men movie, bringing the superhero sartorial style a full circle. The film avoids any explicit “nineties-ness” whether in terms of general pop culture or the specifics of its source material.

What a drag.

However, there is an implicit tension at work in this. The first act of Dark Phoenix places a lot of emphasis on how far relations between mankind and mutants have evolved since the crisis in Apocalypse, largely down to Xavier’s egocentric public relations campaign. However, the film also repeatedly insists that this progress is superficial, that all it would take is “one bad day” to reset relations back to their earlier state. Naturally, that one inciting incident arrives in Dark Phoenix, although its impact is kept largely off-screen. (Vague background exposition alludes to “internment.”)

Although the best X-Men stories have often expanded the metaphor to other oppressed groups, the X-Men franchise has consistently been built around the metaphor of race relations in the United States – occasionally awkwardly and embarrassingly so. Dark Phoenix largely retreats from any overtly political or complex reading of its central metaphor, but Charles’ goodwill campaign evokes broader discussions about normalising race relations in twenty-first century America. Charles is trying to present mutants as a model minority, rebranding them as “superheroes.”

Fight of the Phoenix.

To a certain extent, it evokes conversations about the use of the celebrity of certain African Americans to help normalise race relations in the United States. It has been argued that black athletes have done a lot of work to calm race relations in the United States. (Although the twenty-first century has seen black athletes becoming more and more overtly politicised, creating greater tension along racial lines.) There are similar debates about the use of black celebrity along for the same purpose. In the early nineties, this idea would come to a head with the O.J. Simpson case.

This is where the subtext of the 1992 setting suggests itself. After all, Days of Future Past was set in 1973 and Apocalypse was set in 1983. It seems very strange (and particular) that Dark Phoenix should be set in 1992 rather than 1993. However, building on the Civil Rights metaphor running through the X-Men franchise, it’s tempting to wonder whether Dark Phoenix is deliberately invoking the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, which shattered a lot of the assumptions about how far race relations had come in the United States.

Testing his metal.

Does Dark Phoenix suggest that Jean’s massive power is a similar inciting incident that dismantles a lot of the hard work of Charles Xavier to stabilise relations between mankind and their mutant allies? Dark Phoenix largely avoids making any sort of explicit or implicit connection. It is interesting to wonder whether Kinberg intended the parallel, or whether earlier versions of the script were more explicit in drawing out that metaphor. Whatever the intent, the actual substance of that connection is lost in the finished film.

Charles Xavier has always dreamed of integration between mutants and humans. “Charles, I used to think it was going to be you and me against the world,” Mystique observes in First Class. “But no matter how bad the world gets, you don’t want to be against it, do you?” This was a damning critique of Xavier’s willingness to go along to get along in First Class, to work with the CIA to identify mutants and to publicly out Hank McCoy at his place of work. First Class presented Xavier as a privileged pragmatist, a man who never wanted to cause a scene by challenging the establishment.

Bringing them under the MCU umbrella.

Charles Xavier is still seeking integration in Dark Phoenix, but of a different kind. In First Class, Xavier believed that mutant domination of mankind was inevitable and that he could prevent unnecessary bloodshed from humanity in its death throes. In Dark Phoenix, the position is reversed. The X-Men are themselves in danger of going extinct, of being rendered obsolete, of being erased. The advent of blockbusters like Iron Man and The Avengers has seen the blockbuster superhero genre move past mutant kind. So Charles has chosen not to fight it.

Instead, Dark Phoenix suggests that Charles has adopted an attitude of “if you can’t beat them, join them.” If the X-Men franchise has been outpaced by the cinematic house style of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then Charles will force the X-Men franchise to adapt to a more recognisable and comfortable form. This was the central tension of Apocalypse, which was largely an X-Men movie built in the style of a modern superhero blockbuster. It backfired spectacularly. Indeed, Kinberg himself has conceded the smaller scale of Dark Phoenix was a response to Apocalypse.

Eulogy for a universe.

As a result Dark Phoenix is decidedly more cynical about this superhero rebranding than Charles himself. Much like First Class explicitly called Charles out on his naivety (“or is arrogance?”), Dark Phoenix does something similar. Mystique repeatedly warns Charles that he will never be accepted as a superhero, no matter how eagerly he embraces the branding and house style. Charles and the X-Men will never be loved in the same way that The Avengers are, never accepted by an internet fandom that appears to have deemed the X-Men movies “heretical texts.”

Pointedly, it’s the elements of Dark Phoenix most directly affected by the last-minute reshoots that most overtly acknowledge this tension and anxiety. Actor Jessica Chastain has talked about how the reshoots fundamentally altered her character’s arc and narrative. This is notable because the villains of Dark Phoenix are pretty much the Skrulls. Technically, Vuk is a member of D’Bari, the alien race destroyed by Jean Grey and the Phoenix at the height of The Dark Phoenix Saga. However, for all intents and purposes, the use of the D’Bari in Dark Phoenix recalls the Skrulls.

The Last Stand-Off.

Like the comic book Skrulls, the D’Bari witness their homeworld destroyed by a powerful cosmic entity. Notably, the Skrull homeworld was destroyed by Galactus during John Byrne’s Fantastic Four run, characters and concepts that reside at Fox. (An in-name-only version of Galactus appeared in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.) Following the destruction of their homeworld, the D’Bari featured in Dark Phoenix are drawn to Earth by an almost religious fervour, recalling the use of the aliens in Brian Michael Bendis and Leinel Yu’s Secret Invasion.

To a certain extent, much like the heroes-versus-heroes elements of Dark Phoenix evoke the dynamics of Civil War, the use of the D’Bari in Dark Phoenix plays like an unreconstructed version of Captain Marvel. Once again, a female hero has been exposed to massive cosmic power that aliens wish to harvest from her. These shape-changing aliens infiltrate Earth, even posing as authority figures. However, Captain Marvel presented its shape-changing aliens as refugees. In contrast, Dark Phoenix presents its shape-changing aliens as manipulative fanatics, similar to the Kree.

Reshoots.

It is no small irony that the extensive third-act reshoots on Dark Phoenix were allegedly driven by the original climax’s similarities to Captain Marvel. However, the use of the D’Bari in Dark Phoenix also speaks to broader concerns about conformity and homogeneity. The D’Bari are a cosmic empire who seek to harness the power of the eponymous cosmic force to remake worlds. They infiltrate, they manipulate, they corrupt and the coax in service of that agenda.

It seems entirely appropriate, facing the prospect of a complete reboot by Marvel Studios, that the X-Men should face a threat threatening to remake the world (if not the entire universe) in their own image. The D’Bari are notable for their blankness, even by the standards of the comic book movie. They are implacable. They well not stop. The climax of the film finds the X-Men struggling to hold on to what little leverage they have, while these sinister forces try to take the Phoenix for themselves.

Things fall apart.

With that in mind, it’s notable that the (infamously reshot) climax of Dark Phoenix features the merry mutants literally derailing the MCU. Of course, in the context of the film, that applies to the “Mutant Control Unit”, who were notable featured in Deadpool 2, which was released after word of the merger came out. (It was obviously in production long before that.) Notable, the MCU have taken the mutants into custody at the climax of the film, and are bundling them away from some nefarious purpose. They are even using the power-inhibitors from Deadpool 2.

All this gets at the weariness and cynicism coursing through Dark Phoenix, which occasionally feels like some small measure of rebellion from a major movie franchise that will soon be completely erased as part of larger cultural machinations. Logan was right; in the end it was late capitalism that killed the potential of mutantkind. Notably, Dark Phoenix closes on perhaps the franchise’s most bleak note, returning the now-standard cliché of the chess-match between Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr.

Burning down the house.

In the past, the X-Men franchise has suggested in these movie-ending conversations that Charles represents the future; notably his warnings to Magneto at the end of both X-Men and Apocalypse about the lengths to which he will go to protect his school from any “poor souls” that might try to wrest it from him. Dark Phoenix is decidedly more ambivalent. The central takeaway from Dark Phoenix is that Charles was wrong. The film goes to extreme lengths to force that concession from Charles, to have him acknowledge that his X-Men cannot integrate as superheroes.

This is a departure from how Kinberg had portrayed Charles in Apocalypse. One of the most striking aspects of Apocalypse was its awkward insistence that Charles was righteous and correct, often framed as a direct repudiation of his more flawed characterisation in First Class. Notably, Apocalypse tried to sell Charles’ mindwipe of Moira McTaggart at the end of First Class as a selfless and virtuous act, instead of the selfish manipulation that First Class knew it to be. Apocalypse believed that Charles Xavier could be a hero. In contrast, Dark Phoenix seems to have circled back around to the cynicism of First Class.

Magneto was right.

Notably, Dark Phoenix reverses the franchise’s traditional position on the divide between Charles and Erik. “Let me make the same offer that you once made to me,” Magneto gently insists, extending to Charles the chance to escape the world, to retreat into hiding, to hold on to some part of himself. This seems to be the best that Dark Phoenix can hope for the future of the X-Men franchise, to imagine these characters retiring quietly to the margins, having caused one last minor frustration to the more powerful forces at work in the world.

It is very far from a perfect or fitting ending for these characters, but it seems like the best possible outcome.

16 Responses

  1. [Comment removed at request of author]

    • I never said whether they were accurate or inaccurate. I said rumours about them were unfounded. As in, there’s no proof they actually happened.

      • [Comment removed at request of author]

      • It’s possible he was at a test screening. It’s also entirely possible the guy saw the film through other means, just as it’s entirely possible he knew somebody who saw the film. Hell, he might even have worked on the film. Again, not the point I’m making and not the argument with which I’m engaging.

        The guy said he provided proof that he was at the test screening to the moderators. The moderators said there was no proof. As far as I’ve seen, he’s not produced that proof in public or to a reputable journalist. However, his claim (and the claim of other such individuals who claimed to be at other such screenings) that the film tested horribly was accepted and widely circulated by the fan press and by fans themselves. Which is the point that I’m making.

        Not that his information is inaccurate, although it’s certainly unspecific – I paid enough attention to pick up the name of the aliens, and I saw a much more generic cut, apparently. That this guy provided no proof that he was at a test screening, and no proof that he knew the results of that test screening. But that fan media was so rabid for malicious gossip about the film that they spread that chatter like wildfire without any burden of proof or any standard of care.

        “But they were shown to be right a year after the fact,” isn’t justification for publishing unsubstantiated rumours at the time.

      • [Comment removed at request of author]

      • I’m sorry for the trouble I caused. I’m a fan of your writing and didn’t mean to stir up anything. If you could, I’d appreciate if you could delete all my comments. If I could, I would the delete the comments. I promise it won’t happen again.

      • No worries. Should be cleared now, I think.

  2. Here’s my ranking of the X-Men Movies:
    12. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
    11. X-Men: The Last Stand
    10. X-Men: Dark Phoenix
    9. X-Men: Apocalypse
    8. Deadpool 2
    7. The Wolverine
    6. Deadpool
    5. X-Men
    4. X-Men: Days of Future Past
    3. X-Men: First Class
    2. X2: X-Men United
    1. Logan

    One thing I’m confused about is you calling Apocalypse a series nadir, when three years ago you wrote “Apocalypse works very well, despite its noticeable handicaps. It is very much an indulgence that feels out of touch with the cinematic landscape around it, but one that works because of the charm and energy of the cast and crew. The X-Men films effectively birthed the superhero movie genre. It only seems appropriate that they should enjoy some of the spoils.” Opinions change and all that…but that seems a little drastic.

    This film is a complete mess. Choppy, rushed, and completely the same as all of the other X-Men movies (as brought up by several other critics-that’s one of this franchise’s greatest flaws. It sticks to the same character and thematic beats, over and over again).

    • [Comment removed at request of author]

      • Consider this a fair and friendly warning that I don’t care for sockpuppets on this site. Especially not when trying to press-gang a comments section.
        I’ve appended your comments to clarify to any outside observer that they’re all coming from the same IP address.
        I also have more information on the backend of this site that I’m not going to post publicly, so I know it’s one person doing it.

    • Personally, my ranking would be:

      12. Apocalypse
      11. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
      10. X-Men III
      09. Dark Phoenix
      08. Deadpool
      07. The Wolverine
      06. Deadpool 2
      05. X-Men
      04. X-Men: Days of Future Past
      03. X-Men II
      02. Logan
      01. First Class

      And you’re right to point out my shifting opinion on Apocalypse. I kinda went into this on both the twitter thread and the Letterboxd reviews of my latest rewatch. At the time, and I think I’m quite candid about this in the original review, I gave the film a bit more leeway for basically allowing the franchise that kickstarted the superhero bomb the luxury of getting to play in the wheelhouse of the generic comics blockbuster – like Avengers or Age of Ultron. I figured the franchise had “earned” that, so to speak, and I was inclined to give it a bit more room. I did enjoy it at the time, and I think there is something interesting watching the franchise try to tackle more conventional superhero stuff.

      However, there’s no denying that it’s coloured by the Singer revelations for me. I think X-Men, Days of Future Past and X-Men II are legitimately great films. But it does mean that I’m less likely to give Apocalypse that ticket to ride. (And, to be fair, I probably should have been aware of the Singer accusations in 2016. They were circulating, and everybody has argued that they were an open secret. But they didn’t really enter my consciousness until the Spacey thing.) Again, doctors differ, and there’s no right answer to this. But for me, personally, it does mean that Apocalypse doesn’t get any good will, which would have safely landed it two places higher on that list three years ago.

      • We have the same top 8, assuming that you put Deadpool 1 above the sequel, in a slightly different order.

        Good point about Apocalypse, and the Singer revelations. I had not considered that, but it’s a good point-it doesn’t really deserve leeway.

        I quite like this franchise, and think that it hit some really high highs, despite the botched timeline. The biggest problem with it is that it rarely moves beyond the Xavier-Magneto schism. X-2 from 2003 did it the best-it’s a terrific superhero film and a quality action-fantasy in its own right. Unfortunately, no film has really managed to top it. Compelling as that conflict is, it’s not all the X-Men franchise has to offer. It’s no surprise, then, that the strongest films in the franchise, like Logan, push beyond that. First Class got away with it by showing the genesis of their relationship, while Days of Future Past was all about fixing the mistakes of the past and moving towards a better future. The ones that try to repeat X2 though? Boring.

  3. “Charles Xavier has always dreamed of integration between mutants and humans. “Charles, I used to think it was going to be you and me against the world,” Mystique observes in First Class. “But no matter how bad the world gets, you don’t want to be against it, do you?” This was a damning critique of Xavier’s willingness to go along to get along in First Class, to work with the CIA to identify mutants and to publicly out Hank McCoy at his place of work. First Class presented Xavier as a privileged pragmatist, a man who never wanted to cause a scene by challenging the establishment.”

    You know, I’m so done with the Deconstruction Of Xavier.

    The whole presentation of Xavier as privileged, oblivious, and full of flaws in his youth was interesting in First Class, but it’s kind of non-trivial to the X-Men franchise that Xavier and his people are supposed to be *right,* and Magneto and his people wrong even if understandable. At some point, Xavier needs to grow beyond the arrogant berk always getting righteously called out, and into someone who can actually be credible as a moral counterpoint to Magneto. I don’t think that ever happened here and the series suffers from it.

    • I think X2 makes a solid case for Xavier as right. (It helps that Stryker is immediately set up as a foil to Xavier, and then revealed as a foil to Magneto.) I think it works very well in that sense, although you run into the issue of what to do with him.

      But I don’t mind the whole “Xavier-is-a-jerk” reading on the character. He’s a guy who branded his own teenage paramilitary, and who has the ability to read/control minds. I’m fairly comfortable with the idea of Xavier being presented as problematic, particularly in this day and age.

      I think that trying to centre a story around a purely heroic Charles Xavier gets very messy very quickly, as Apocalypse demonstrates with its “I had to wipe her mind to protect her, but did you think about what that meant for me?” schtick.

  4. After watching it multiple times and looking at the screen times. I disagree that the movie focuses more on the older cast. It gives all of its attention to Jean and Charles. With Jean as the protagonist(the cosmic force didn’t really influence her behavior it just unleashed her childhood trauma and made her have PTSD).

    Mystique only has two scenes of complaining about Xavier before dying halfway through and Magneto doesn’t show up until after the midpoint.

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